If you look over the short filmography of writer Noga Pnueli then you will see that she seems to have a fascination with time travel/time loops, and how people may try to use it to change themselves, or change the people they care about. I am only going by the plot summaries here, having not seen any of her other work, but I am now keen to see how she has been working and reworking this idea for the past few years, because Meet Cute is good enough to make me into an instant fan of her.
The premise seems quite simple, and familiar. Kaley Cuoco is Sheila, a young woman who approached Gary (Pete Davidson) in a bar. She offers to buy him a drink, and they stick together for an enjoyable date night. Things aren't what they seem though. Sheila has gone through this date multiple times, thanks to a time machine she makes use of in the back of a nail salon, and she wants to keep enjoying the perfect night. While relishing the opportunity to fix her own life, because this bit of time travel came along just after a very low point, Sheila also realises that she can "fix" Gary. She can mould him into someone absolutely perfect. But maybe he's already perfect for her. And maybe she shouldn't meddle around in the past without considering "the butterfly effect".
Director Alex Lehmann also has a fairly small filmography, for anyone wanting to explore it, but this is the first film from him that I have enjoyed. Other people liked Blue Jay, but I was underwhelmed by it. Funnily enough, it's easy to see a connection between that film and this though, considering the moments in which one character is going through the motions and celebrating a complete relationship that the other character is often unaware of. Lehmann does a good job here, keeping everything lively and interesting enough while allowing the focus to remain on the script and his leads.
As for those leads, both Davidson and Cuoco are excellent. I have, for some reason, always thought I disliked Davidson, but time and time again he delivers moments onscreen (whether in his many acting roles or in his live comedy work) that really work for me. His self-deprecating manner, his ability to tap into his own darkness and discomfort, even his way of leaning fully into complete asshole mode, he's always fascinating and entertaining to watch. And he sometimes gets to be awkward and sweet, as he is here. Cuoco is someone I always liked in her TV work (yes, hate the show all you want, I was easily amused by The Big Bang Theory whenever I watched it), but she deserves to be in more lead movie roles, especially after proving her range in recent projects like this and The Flight Attendant. Meet Cute gets dark at times, very dark, and it's the winning charisma of Davidson and Cuoco that stop it from ever being too dark. Deborah S. Craig is fun in her small role, June (guardian of the time machine), and it was good to see Kevin Corrigan onscreen, even if he was in the fairly thankless role of "Phil the bartender".
Although I do love a good time loop movie, they are often quite similar to one another when it comes to the execution of the material. You see the key moments that will signify repeating time, you see many changes being made to attempt to change the end result, etc. Meet Cute has those moments in place, but they're interspersed throughout the film in a way that helps the whole thing to feel a bit different from many other films in this sub-genre. And almost none of it seems to matter by the time we get to the end, which moves away from the fantastical element to instead underline the main message about not dwelling on the past.
Funny, sweet, painful, and smart. Highly recommended.
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