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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Meet Cute review: Peacock’s time travel rom-com falls flat

Meet Cute wants to be a lot of things at once. The film, which premieres exclusively on Peacock this week, is simultaneously a manic time travel adventure, playful romantic comedy, and dead-serious commentary on the messiness of romantic relationships. If that sounds like a lot for one low-budget rom-com to juggle — and within the span of 89 minutes, no less — that’s because it is. Thanks to the performance given by its game lead star, though, there are moments when Meet Cute comes close to pulling off its unique tonal gambit.

Unfortunately, the film’s attempts to blend screwball comedy with open-hearted romanticism often come across as hackneyed rather than inspired. Behind the camera, director Alex Lehmann fails to bring Meet Cute’s disparate emotional and comedic elements together, and the movie ultimately lacks the tonal control that it needs to be able to discuss serious topics like depression in the same sequence that it throws out, say, a series of slapstick costume gags.  The resulting film is one that isn’t memorably absurd so much as it is mildly irritating.

Kaley Cuoco stands next to Pete Davidson in Peacock's Meet Cute.
MKI Distribution Services/Peacock

Meet Cute’s inability to add anything of real worth to the romantic comedy genre is made more disappointing by how promisingly it starts. The film brings a refreshing, Groundhog Day-esque twist to its otherwise straightforward rom-com plot, and despite opening with a purposefully clichéd bar encounter between the movie’s two leads, Sheila (The Flight Attendant‘s Kaley Cuoco) and Gary (Pete Davidson, last seen in the Gen Z thriller Bodies, Bodies, Bodies), Meet Cute wisely doesn’t waste too much time before throwing the necessary wrench into its own story.

In this case, the wrench that complicates Meet Cute’s plot is a tanning bed that allows its user to travel to any point in the past for just 24 hours. The machine is kept in the backroom of a nail salon owned by the no-nonsense June (Deborah S. Craig), who just so happens to enter into the orbit of Cuoco’s Sheila on one fateful day. A brief flashback reveals how June introduced Sheila to her time machine and it quickly becomes clear from that point on that the first date that opened Meet Cute wasn’t exactly what it appeared to be. At least, not for Sheila, who quickly and cheerfully tells Gary early on in Meet Cute that she’s begun using June’s time machine to repeatedly relive their magical first date.

Her confession to Gary is one of many moments in which Meet Cute uses Sheila’s tendency to overshare and throw caution to the wind to speed through its necessary pieces of exposition, but Cuoco, to her credit, takes full advantage of her character’s high-strung energy by chewing through every line she’s given. In fact, while it doesn’t take long for Sheila’s manic energy to become grating, Cuoco’s go-for-broke performance gradually proves to be the one likable thing that Meet Cute has going for it.

Deborah S. Craig and Kaley Cuoco look into a tanning bed in Peacock's Meet Cute.
MKI Distribution Services/Peacock

Opposite Cuoco, Davidson feels miscast as Gary, the shy and unassuming graphic designer who quickly finds himself sucked into Sheila’s whirlpool of romance. As the other half of the film’s central pair, Davidson does manage to match Cuoco’s infectiously absurd energy during Meet Cute’s more outwardly comedic moments, but he has a harder time selling Gary’s handful of emotional outbursts. The film itself also undercuts one of Gary’s biggest moments by foreshadowing it far too heavily throughout its first act.

That’s a shame, considering the scene in question had the potential to be one of the few genuine surprises in a film that takes a more predictable journey than its time travel premise would have you believe. It’s not long, for instance, before Meet Cute forces Sheila to tell Gary about how her own fear of disappointment has prevented her from truly exploring a relationship with him, and the arguments that ensue following that admission feel suffocatingly overwritten.

The film’s breakneck pace also prevents it from investigating Sheila’s backstory as deeply as it should, which makes many of the very real issues she’s struggling with feel more like thinly sketched affectations than genuine emotional problems. The same can be said for much of Meet Cute, which frequently introduces several compelling ideas and genre subversions only to end up abandoning them in favor of telling a safer and more predictable story.

Meet Cute | Official Trailer | Peacock Original

The film ultimately evolves in much the same way that the date at the center of it does, which is to say that it starts off promisingly enough only to quickly become disappointingly repetitive and dull. Not even Cuoco’s charmingly fearless performance as its fragile lead is strong enough to add a sense of cohesion to Meet Cute’s numerous half-hearted detours. The film is, in other words, one date you don’t have to worry about skipping.

Meet Cute premieres Friday, September 23 exclusively on Peacock.

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