Synopsis: After spending a night with the girl of his dreams only to become just friends, a man gets the opportunity to travel through time and alter that night over and over again until he gets everything perfect (From IMDB).
Review: In recent years Netflix has taken on the personality of an independent movie theater. They release a lot of content that would not otherwise make it out of the studio storage locker. Netflix announced plans to release eighty original films this year. Hopefully some of them will match the quality of the Netflix original television shows. So far, in my opinion, most of the Netflix movies lack the strong writing and characterization of the television narratives. However, I am glad that Netflix is providing an outlet for movie directors and writers to get their work produced. Given the tightening margins in the film industry, most major studios prefer to rely on proven hits versus cultivating new talent; which is how every hit movie nowadays seems to span endless sequels and prequels. Without Netflix, a lot of solid, middle of the road movies would never reach an audience.
When We First Met would never have gotten released by a major studio; which is how it ended up on Netflix. While this movie seals the death knell for romantic comedies, I am glad Netflix bought a comedy and not another dark, depressing drama. Do not misunderstand, I appreciate a well-crafted drama. However, Netflix’s online movie inventory carries a lot more dramas than light hearted movies. It says something when the most uplifting and encouraging movies are filed under “Kids” or “Christmas”. Apparently, only kids can watch heartwarming and inspiring films. Adults seem regulated to depressing science fiction or melodramatic cop shows. So, while When We First Met does not leave a lasting impression, I am glad it exists.
Ari Sandel’s When We First Met is a modern romantic comedy, visually pleasing yet emotionally empty. If a cupcake came to life and started a romance with a two dimensional cookie, this would be their story. Surprisingly, most of the charm comes from Adam Devine’s rather endearing performance as Noah. Outside of Pitch Perfect, most of Devine’s work exists in the genre of “underachiever-loser bro with a bad mouth”. Seeing him play a relatable character in an uncharacteristically clean movie was a pleasant surprise. He does sing, but in the passionate way any music lover would while banging away on the piano. Devine turns Noah into a believable romantic lead. Too bad the writing lets him and the rest of the cast down.
This movie combines Groundhog Day and every teenage love drama into one gloriously underwritten narrative. Noah and Avery meet cute at a party on Halloween. They spend a fun filled, PG rated night at Avery’s house. (Which is a refreshing change. Not everyone jumps into bed with each other on the first date) Noah goes home. Three years later, Avery is marrying Ethan. Now fully depressed at not having the girl, Noah discovers the photo booth at the Jazz Club works like a time machine. Voila! Noah travels back to that fateful Halloween party repeatedly until he gets his relationship with Avery right. In between these attempts, he receives a lot of advice from Avery’s best friend, Carrie.
Who is Noah? Who is Avery? We will never know as the scriptwriter apparently decided not to give the characters any depth. Noah dropped out of business school for an unspecified reason and now plays the piano at a Jazz Bar. Avery organizes charity events. For being the “perfect” girl, not a lot of substance went into creating Avery. She has no interests, no skills, and no personality. Alexandra Daddario’s sole purpose in the film is to look pretty and alternately kiss Devine and Robbie Amell. For a film about unrequited love, Avery does not inspire soul-searing passion. She is Noah’s dream girl, but even he knows nothing about her. The film focuses solely on Noah and his obsession with Avery yet never fleshes out the reasons for his devotion.
Noah’s friend Max comes across as a last minute character addition, which is disappointing since Andrew Bachelor had potential to portray a much deeper character. Robbie Amell has nothing to work with other than look good and smile. His character, Ethan, is Noah’s romantic rival, yet he has no real depth. Ethan has as much personality as a strong wind. Shelley Hennig portrays Carrie, Avery’s best friend and the only other character with some personality. Carrie plays off Noah much better than Avery and at least possesses the briefest hints of a personality.
This movie managed the internal time travel logic competently, with one glaring exception. In one timeline, that version of Noah inexplicably knew his colleagues’ names and a foreign language, even though every other timeline goes out of its ways to show how Noah is lost in his own life. Each time he arrives to a new alternative present tense he learns a little bit more about himself. However, that one timeline jump seemed a little out-of-place when compared to the other versions. It was refreshing to see a time travel movie show likely genuine reactions. For instance, when Avery and Carrie decide Noah’s insider knowledge about their lives mean he is a stalker, proceed to bludgeon him with a shrubbery, and have Ethan tackle him in the doorway. I could see all these reactions occurring if someone I did not know showed up knowing all kinds of personal details about me and my friends.
Unlike most modern romantic comedies, When We First Met really deals with Noah trying to figure out who he is and realizing that he does not need to change to get the girl of his dreams. Noah’s journey, eventually, ends with him valuing not only his own happiness, but also that of Avery, Max, Carrie, and possibly Ethan. Noah’s friendships and his passion for music are more important to him than trying to force a romance that just does not work. Once this realization, the movie becomes more palatable. Unfortunately, the film just does not have any depth to the narrative, which is a common problem with modern romantic movies. If the rest of the characters possessed fully fleshed out personalities, When We First Met would have made a stronger impression. Overall, while not a great film, I did feel entertained. As such, the film succeeded in its purpose. I hope Ari Sandel continues to make these kinds of films and that his future films feature a stronger narrative arc and character development.