When We First Met (2018)

“Fate is a tricky lady.”

Similar to a lackluster first date in desperate need of greater chemistry and a stronger curb appeal, When We First Met doesn’t exactly check all of the boxes to start. It’s disengaging, slow, steals from other films (the script is basically a newer take on the 2012 feature The Five-Year Engagement mixed with the childish male wish-fulfillment of Big and the stalking perfectionism of the wooing 2013 film A Case of You), filtering its romance through an awkward and clingy horniness. But then things twist, and this below average rom-com takes a step up because it exaggerates its actions without normalizing them. When We First Met hardly does anything new, yet its humble approach is an apt reminder for thirsty male suitors across the globe that they ought to be more open to whom they need rather than squarely focusing on the idealism of their ill-advised desires.

It’s easy to dislike Noah (Adam Devine). At the same time, it’s just as easy to sympathize with his sad sap of an existence. A part-time jazz pianist at a dive bar (can you say La La Land much?) and a business school grad with miniscule aspirations, Noah’s career choices reflect the lofty ambitions of a hapless dreamer, and for those reasons he’s as easy to adore as he is to ridicule. Then he literally stumbles into Avery (Alexandra Daddario) at a Halloween party, they enjoy each other’s company, he leaves the night with a friendly hug instead of a reckless tryst. The cosmic connection he felt has been hung on the line to dry, and the film finally takes shape by traveling through space and time (with too few rules and just enough reason) in the form of a mahogany molded photo booth. Perhaps he can play God and shape things as he wants. Or maybe the universe simply has other plans in store.

Unfortunately for the time-traveling Noah, manueviring his way through space and time with hopes of finally wooing the woman of his dreams with a grand gesture (which never quite goes according to plan), he’s never really Mr. Right for Avery. That title belongs to Ethan (Robbie Amell), surprisingly and endearingly portrayed as a strikingly unhateable guy who’s as kind and altruistic as his eyes and helping hands convey. Noah resents Ethan, but they’re far from enemies, and at times even friends. So while When We First Met offers no new tastes or dishes on its menu, what resonates the most is its cordial, friendly, effusive courtship. I tend to favor movies that desperately try to earn their stripes, and I sometimes recommend (or even love) pictures when they embrace their unabashed puppy-dog decision-making. Faults and all, and with the help of a great cast (especially Shelley Hennig who really brings her A-game as the hard-hearted best friend Carrie), When We First Met earns thumbs up because its intentions are in the right place.

Serendipitously, I had Death Cab for Cutie’s album Transatlanticism playing in the background as I wrote this review, the lyrics to “Title and Registration” filling in the silence. “There’s no blame for how our love did slowly fade. And now that it’s gone, it’s like it wasn’t there at all. And here I rest where disappointment and regret collide. Lying awake at night.” The words basically summarize the entire film, but what’s missing from the saccharine tone are the possibilities brought about by the hopeful sentiments of “maybe” and “who knows.” You could do worse when it comes to the romantic comedy genre (please, if you watch this movie and enjoy it, seek out the far better Mr. Destiny), but as per the title, When We First Met leaves a dreamy, fleeting impression worth chasing with an open heart and outstretched hands. The cast’s conventions are part of the dopey charm. Give this one a chance, and don’t worry if you fall asleep; I’m sure Netflix will tell you to pick up right where you left off.

“Sometimes relationships are about intangible things.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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