In Meet Cute, Peacock’s bumpy romantic comedy, girl meets boy in a nondescript bar. After some awkwardly endearing pleasantries and a round of Old-Fashioneds, they take their conversation to the underlit streets of New York City. Sparks fly. The young adults fall into a lustful stupor. They part ways, promising to see each other soon. The next day, girl meets boy at the same bar. They toss the pleasantries but still indulge in a round of drinks. They stumble into the streets. The day after that, girl meets boy again, and they repeat their first date, in perpetuity.
This nightmarish scenario is a dream for Sheila (an excellently unnerving Kaley Cuoco), a neurotic depressive searching for purpose and a second chance. She finds it during an uncharacteristic trip to the nail salon, where her sardonic nail tech, June (Deborah S. Craig), introduces her to a time machine. The device, a misguided purchase by the establishment’s owner, could be mistaken for a tanning bed: It has a white chrome exterior and ultraviolet interior. But it offers a greater, more lasting, transformation.
The Bottom Line
Flickers with potential.
Meet Cutedirected by Alex Lehmann and written by Noga Pnueli, adopts the concept of time-traveling films like Groundhog Day to concoct a love story reaching for the poignancy of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film’s emotional resonance is supposed to come from watching Sheila and Gary (Pete Davidson), an unlikely couple, try to change how they remember each other — at first superficially, and then in more deep-seated ways. But the excessive focus on the mechanics of Sheila’s temporal mischief doesn’t leave much room to understand these love birds enough to root for them.
The first act of Meet Cute is entirely made up of Sheila and Gary’s first dates. We meet her, staring longingly at Gary from across the room, at the start of what is technically Date Seven. She is familiar with the contours of their exchange, armed with the knowledge of how their evening will end. She knows which jokes Gary, a diffident freelance web designer, will make when they stop in front of the cadre of Indian restaurants in the East Village; what he will order; which wine he will enjoy; and the stories he will tell her. The routine and predictability are comforting until they aren’t. Over the course of the sequence (roughly a year’s worth of dates) we see Sheila become increasingly frustrated and bored by her lover.
But Sheila is resistant to changing her situation, to letting the timeline play out on its own. She returns to the nail salon after each date, a beleaguered woman refusing to surrender. cook (The Flight Attendant) is a near-perfect Sheila; the actress teases out the fear that undergirds Sheila’s obsessive enthusiasm for that night and her choices. It’s the fear that her depression will return, the fear that Gary won’t love her as much as he does on the first date, the fear of feeling anything other than temporary elation. This fear, coupled with her inability to relinquish control, leads Sheila to take even more drastic measures: To relieve her of Gary’s most frustrating traits, she decides to jump farther back into the past and resolve his trauma.
This is where Meet Cute loses some of its momentum and footing, creating a mostly confusing and forgettable second act. In the process of trying to fix Gary, Sheila (and by extension we, the viewers) lose the plot. Her motivations become murkier and less understandable. Her dates with Gary, whom she tells about her time-traveling, are weighed down by their predictability. Their dates sour, ending with explosive arguments and a confused Gary always walking away. A lot could have been resolved if the screenplay spent more time with Sheila and clarified her mental health struggles. Instead, her depression is relegated to vague monologues and aesthetic shortcuts — sporadic outbursts and costume choices highlighting a clichéd haggardness — that keep us too close to the surface. It doesn’t help either that as the film marches towards its emotional climax, Cuoco and Davidson’s partnership comes off as more fraternal than romantic, with the former feeling more like a big sister than a fiery lover in a tempestuous relationship.
Despite its flaws, Meet Cute flickers with potential. The film has pockets of charming moments, which make it easier to see what the filmmakers were trying to achieve. There’s something seductive about reliving the honeymoon period of any relationship, of returning to the moment passion was ignited, but it’s not those early days or feelings that create a winning or lasting romance. Meet Cute takes its own, inventive route to a familiar conclusion: Love, like the most intricate puzzles, takes time.