After discovering a time machine hidden amidst an unassuming salon, Shelia finds herself reliving a first date with an affable stranger in the romantic comedy Meet Cute.
For readers feeling a sense of deja vu, time travel has become a familiar narrative staple for projects looking to build upon the quirks of age-old classics like Back to the Future and Groundhog’s Day. Some vehicles utilized the pastiche for crowdpleasing entertainment (Happy Death Day and The Tomorrow War), while others aspired for more dramatic ambitions (Before I Fall and the highly-underrated Long Weekend). Like with any trend in Hollywood, the results showcase a mixed bag of inspired projects and thankless retreads.
Meet Cute attempts to thread both sensibilities with an intimate take on romantic comedy contrivances. Despite a few novel twists on the popularized time travel trend, the maudlin final product yields a flat and oddly dysfunctional embrace of dated notions.
The foundation for an endearing romance is there on paper. First-time screenwriter Noga Pnueli thankfully takes some liberties with her time travel devices, twisting her narrative threads into some unexpectedly complex places. I appreciate that Pnueli tries to wrestle with the allures and dark realities of Shelia’s choices while still inserting her distinctive comedic voice.
These choices allow Meet Cute to adopt more purpose than a traditional rom-com, fitting more into the indie, mumblecore sensibility that director Alex Lehmann knows quite well (Blue Jay and Paddleton). Lehmann and Cinematographer John Matysiak make for a suitable team as they capture their star-crossed lovers finding themselves amidst the glow of New York City nightlife.
While noble on paper, Meet Cute ultimately succumbs to its faulty narrative foundation. Pnueli’s attempts to humanize her characters, including Shelia’s history with depression and suicidal ideations, often lack the dramatic weight needed for her concepts to marinate properly. Simplifying complex issues under the guise of rom-com whimsy and fortune cookie-level insights sends an insincere message to viewers. It also creates a romance ensnared by some severely problematic qualities. Pnueli’s lack of textures and bizarre narrative revelations conjure a dysfunctional relationship forged in the fires of co-dependency and constant manipulation. Even as the film acknowledges these developments as issues, it doesn’t present a very nuanced voice on the subject matter.
The floundering material straddles the film’s charismatic leads in unfortunate ways. Kaley Cuoco possesses sharp comedic timing and affectionate personability, but Shelia’s wayward characterization undermines the actresses’ strengths at every turn. Her character ultimately becomes a prototype of manic pixie dream girl stereotypes that desperately lacks genuine introspection. Pete Davidson is his usual awkwardly affable self here, although he and Cuoco do not form winning camaraderie as a pair.
Meet Cute’s well-intended risks never quite payoff. Here’s one first date viewers will likely not want to relive over and over again.
Meet Cute is now playing on Peacock.