Synopsis – Noah spends the perfect first night with Avery, the girl of his dreams, but gets relegated to the friend zone. He spends the next three years wondering what went wrong – until he gets the unexpected chance to travel back in time and alter that night – and his fate – over and over again.
My Take – When it comes to rom-coms, viewers are never quite sure if what they’re going to get is actually funny or just kind of corny. Honestly, there was a time when I used to love watching a romantic comedy on lazy weekend, as they were as close to a comfort food we could get that would manage to remind us there’s a little magic in the world. Films like Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, Notting Hill and Serendipity, despite being corny, had a certain heart in them that would bring a smile even on some of toughest. However, with the sudden flood of Nicholas Spark adaptations kicking in, the genre was pushed in to a corner where they dwindled until they were almost extinct, that was until last year’s The Big Sick revitalized the genre by breathing fresh air into this dying genre. Following up its success this new film from director Ari Sandel, whose previous work, The DUFF, was a supremely charming high school rom-com starring Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell, which came and went in theaters with the right amount of love, had a rather good looking teaser, and for some reason I like Adam Devine, especially his work in Workaholics, and find him quite funny. I’m really glad that I did give this film a shot. With a a nice mixture of elements from films like About Time and Groundhog Day, this film is oddly surprisingly pleasant and amusing, and is definitely one of the better ones to come out of the genre in recent times. Sure it has cliché at moments and you could basically predict the plot if you’re an avid film watcher, but I don’t think that takes away from the film in general. If you came into this film expecting an Oscar-winning crazy complex contemporary film that made you really think about it’s major themes and underlying messages then I’m sorry but you’re going to be sorely disappointed. However, if you go into this film with an open mind, a fun mood, and some popcorn, I believe you will come to enjoy this film for what it is.
The story follows Noah Ashby (Adam Devine), a somewhat nerdish underachiever with seemingly limitless potential, who meets Avery (Alexandra Daddario), the girl of his dreams at a Halloween Party and falls in love with her. However, three years have passed, and Noah, through no fault of his own, has been consigned by Avery to the infuriatingly inescapable friend zone, who instead is now getting engaged to Ethan (Robbie Amell), who she met the very next day of the party. When Noah gets unbearably drunk at Avery and Ethan’s engagement party, he hitches a ride with Avery’s best friend Carrie (Shelley Hennig), who drives him to the very bar he and Avery had gone to all of those years ago. Despite the concerns of his friend Max (Andrew Bachelor), Noah sits in an old photo booth, reminiscent of Zoltar in Big, and makes his wish to try again. Through the power of a magical photo booth, Noah finds himself back in the Halloween of 2014, to try again and change his future, but when he doesn’t set things right the first time, he keeps traveling back in time (to the same night) in a desperate attempt to get it right. The film has a cool premise, and it’s kind of a unique new twist on the time traveling flick. Think of it as Groundhog Day, but with a fast-forward element that shows Noah the wisdom or error of each choice, giving the whole thing a bit of a About Time effect, but, to much surprise, this film has more class than simply borrowing all its ideas from other material. Some of the twists the filmmakers employ are hilariously clever & manages impress with a heartfelt and very pleasant story, the likes of which will really surprise you with just how genuine it feels in comparison to the incredibly formulaic and fairly simplistic overall plot. How the film plays with time and its different scenarios elevates it above your average laundry-folding, background noise rom-coms. Here, we don’t see our main character simply living the exact same time frame again and again, but rather witness him jump three years ahead to live with the consequences of what happened that one night and how it changes a person with each experience. Despite knowing Avery better than anyone, Noah doesn’t get it right on the first try. In fact, he ends up trying to get advice from those around him including his best friend Max and Avery’s best friend Carrie to figure out what he needs to do to win Avery. It’s not as simple as making a move on her faster, and Noah ends up trying to change himself to better fit what he thinks Avery really wants. Along the way Noah learns more about himself and what’s really important in life, like staying true to yourself. He also learns that just winning Avery won’t be enough to make him happy, as some of his attempts to lead to more misery than happiness. As the time travels increase, the comedy escalates and escalates, creating a subversion of the cliché conventions. This may not exactly work out for Noah, but the different scenarios that blossom from each of his decisions are funny to watch and the conclusion of the film does send a nice message. This is a film that surprised me in terms of comedy because I found myself laughing throughout the majority of this film. Mind you, most of the jokes were juvenile, but for every joke that didn’t work, I was latching onto the development of each of these characters.
By the time this film had reached its climax, I was sold, even if it was just average throughout its entire duration. The one scene in which the cast comes together unfolds after Noah’s first disastrous attempt at changing history, in which he appears to be an obsessive stalker. Arriving back in 2017, he finds a timeline in which Avery, Carrie and Ethan only remember him from that night, and the resulting freak out is by far the funniest scene in the film, particularly with Amell pressing his comic advantage as a super nice bloke who doesn’t really know how to fight. The film also does largely well in managing its internal time travel logic, with one exception. In one timeline, a modern version of Noah inexplicably knew his colleagues’ names and an entire foreign language in spite of the fact that every other timeline makes comedic work of what a fish out of water Noah is in his own life, each time he arrives to a new alternative present tense. Most films of this kind capitalize on the fish out of water aspect and use perplexity as tool for making audiences laugh and this film takes that approach, but it also pushes it further in ways you wouldn’t expect. There’s also a very interesting twist that’s thrown into the mix of the film that I won’t give away. But I will say that it’s very sweet and totally unexpected. It’s this special twist that makes this stand out from other romantic comedies and I think viewers will really appreciate the new spin on a familiar plot. You’d think the film’s problems would mostly stem from its message—watching a “nice guy” go to extraordinarily mean-spirited and tone-deaf methods to capitalize on a woman portrayed with little agency does become a chore, but at least the film manages to avoid some predictable paths. Yet, what frustrated me about the story was that, for about three-quarters of the duration, it felt as if there wasn’t any other motive than just getting the girl through any means possible. That’s fairly enjoyable for about twenty minutes, but the fact that it feels like that’s all that’s in our main character’s mind during every decision makes the film feel very shallow, and undoubtedly repetitive. Also, the film’s sexual politics can be a bit hard to stomach at times – after all, the entire film is predicated on the premise of the Friend Zone, an antiquated notion that if you put enough friendship tokens into a woman, sex should come out. When Avery hugs Noah goodnight instead of kissing him, it’s intercut with archival footage of wars and disasters, backed by an ominous, operatic musical cue. Several beats of that nature make the film feel awkwardly antiquated in the way it treats women, as though it came out five years ago. When it comes to quirky comedies, your film’s pretty much doomed if your cast isn’t completely present with their performances. The film largely rests on Adam Devine’s performance, which is more of what we’ve come to expect from him. Yes, he sings, but in the way a human being who loves music naturally would – no big song and dance numbers here. Devine is more like Jack Black than he’s ever been, mixing jokes, pop culture references, and charisma, and at points if you close your eyes you might just mistake one for the other. Alexandra Daddario‘s character is pretty unlikable though, in my opinion as well, and I had a hard time even relating to why he’s so in love with her. Robbie Amell does a good job keeping his character from being flat or just the jerk that gets the girl, but it’s Shelley Hennig who steals almost every scene she’s in. Although she doesn’t have the greatest screenplay to work with, Hennig is easily the highlight of every scene she’s in, with a performance that doesn’t feel as try-hard or manic as her co-stars, having that genuine and very likable appeal that makes her by far the film’s most down-to-earth and enjoyable presence throughout, which was great to see. Andrew Bachelor is also fun to watch as he channels his inner Eddie Murphy. On the whole, ‘When We First Met‘ is a standard enjoyable rom-com, elevated by its fun element and charming performances from its young cast.
Directed – Ari Sandel
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 97 minutes