Review by Cole Groth
Time travel and romantic comedies combine to form one of the most delightfully enjoyable sub-genres. In 2020, Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs seemed to have perfected the genre by taking two affable leads with tons of chemistry and sticking them in a time loop. Alex Lehmann tackles this fun combination with a few tweaks in Peacock’s, Meet Cute. Starring a unique pairing of a never-better Kaley Cuoco and an occasionally miscast Pete Davidson, this 2022 film takes a more cynical approach to what it means to be living your best life.
“It’s okay to be messy sometimes.” This quote appears several times throughout Meet Cute, representing Shiela’s (Kaley Cuoco) views on the world around her. We jump right into the action with a rather nervous Sheila approaching a blissfully unaware Gary (Pete Davidson). Their initial interaction is unpolished, but there’s a sense that not everything is as it seems. The first twenty minutes or so contain small hints at the premise of the film: that Sheila is a time traveler revisiting her first date with Gary to get away from her depressing existence in her regular life. Similar to the pessimistic tone that Palm Springs takes on being stuck in a time loop, Noga Pnueli’s script focuses on the sad reality of Sheila reliving this same day over and over again. Instead of being trapped in a loop, she’s constantly using a time machine she found in a nail salon (more on that later) to revisit this day. She isn't forced through the same day, but at the same time, she is.
Pnueli and Lehmann wanted to tell a story about mental health in Meet Cute. Sheila is broken on the inside, which Kaley Cuoco’s excellent performance perfectly emphasizes. Rather than taking these two charming people with few flaws, we see two people who are incredibly flawed human beings. Neither one of them are very normal, which makes them so much more fun to explore. Sheila and Gary’s date is awkward at first, but that’s the reality of first dates. They’re weird, complicated, and awkward. Instead of going in for a kiss, Sheila hugs Gary. The first embrace of two rom-com leads almost always has a sloppy kiss, but this simple hug shows the more realistic side of dating. Small moments like these make their romance flow naturally and lead to an incredibly exciting journey.
Every time loop movie provides its spin on the logic of time travel, and this one is no exception. Instead of using an enormously complicated machine, Lehmann presents us with a tanning bed in the back of a nail salon. Sheila professes her disdain for her current life to the owner, June (played by a hilarious Deborah S. Craig), and is presented with the opportunity to go back 24 hours to fix where her life went wrong. However, this presents her with an interesting challenge: what should she do with her past self? This movie gets uncomfortable at times, and the most uncomfortable moments come from Sheila routinely murdering her past self by running her over. Instead of leaving this as a short comedic beat, these moments get progressively longer and become more and more horrifying. Lehmann abandons tonal consistency to take sad or distressing turns. These might emphasize the brokenness of Sheila’s mental state, but it doesn’t help the film feel consistent.
Pnueli’s story and general ideas are great, but her dialogue is hit-or-miss at times. Pete Davidson is simply not a good enough actor to deliver occasionally clunky lines of dialogue without sounding completely distracting. After an expository moment where Sheila explains that she’s a time traveler, instead of a simple confused reaction, Gary says something to the effect of “Wait, being a time traveler is impossible, this doesn’t make sense!” These clunky lines of dialogue are almost laughably bad at times, which makes some scenes feel like an SNL parody. However, most of the weak scenes are preceded or followed by excellent scenes, which makes the bad writing feel negligible at times. Davidson’s weak delivery is made up for by Cuoco’s excellent delivery. In this way, the two have incredible chemistry. They’re one of the strangest pairings in recent rom-coms, and they work because of that.
When Meet Cute tries to be dramatic, it’s surprisingly effective. Sheila’s mental health is written with so much care for the topic, making this one of the most effective portrayals of anxiety and depression that you’ll find in a romantic comedy. When it tries to be funny, it’s hilarious. Davidson’s natural talent for comedy shines in ad-libbed moments, which are emphasized by his chemistry with Cuoco. It’s an all-around great film that succeeds at both its emotional complexity and humor.
Sure, Meet Cute is messy at times. However, life is just as messy as this film, and that’s what makes it so good. Davidson and Cuoco are an electric duo, and with a great premise, fun script, and excellent pacing, you’re in for a fun time. It’s hard to reinvent the rom-com, but Lehmann, who is admittedly not a fan of the genre, has managed to make a significant new film that’s worthy of a watch from any fan of the genre.
Meet Cute will stream exclusively on Peacock starting September 21st.