The first day at any “introduction to screenwriting” class worth its salt hammers one thing home: your story won’t connect with an audience if your lead characters don’t want anything. Yes, yes, rules are made to be broken, and experimental art is vital to the expansion of any form, but I do not think that Meet Cute, a two-hander low-budget rom-com debuting on Peacock, had this as its goal. It is, instead, simply a failure.
Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson, two terrific performers who have done and will continue to do marvelous things in their careers, are stuck in a loop of first dates in this aggravating and perplexing feature from director Alex Lehmann. It’s a gimmick like Groundhog Day or Palm Springs, only this time it’s self-imposed, through time travel. Imagine Primerbut as a When Harry Met Sally-inspired sitcom, then swap out insightful dialogue for the meandering tedium of an endless one act play. (And not a good one, like David Ives’s Sure Thingto which Meet Cute owes a significant debt.)
The production, hampered by shooting around COVID-19 protocols, tries to liven things up by using Lower Manhattan locations, but it doesn’t have any ideas more original than “an Indian restaurant!” or “the ferry!” It’s exhausting.
The first time we meet Cuoco’s Sheila she’s got the hots for Davidson’s Gary, eyeing him at the end of a bar. She comes on to him, but before they split to take the yapping to a new locale, she tells him she’s a time traveler. She’s making cutesy / wacky faces, so Gary rolls with it for a while. But when she starts finishing his sentences, he gets confused.
Turns out, she really is a time traveler. You see, there’s a nail salon with a tanning bed in the back that can send you back 24 hours. Fair enough. While this date is the first we in the audience see, it’s actually the seventh. She keeps returning the next morning because… well, this part is a little unclear.
Sheila is also a murderer, because each time she goes back in the tanning bed, she finds herself from the new timeline and runs that version of herself over with her car. This makes for a good laugh, but doesn’t exactly leave one rooting for this person as the other Kaley Cuoco tries to escape in terror.
The date continues for about a year, and it includes some chatter with Deborah S. Craig as the nail salon manager June, who seems pretty blasé about this woman coming by every day. In fact, June is aware of Sheila’s ongoing cycle of visits, and their fruitlessness di lei in helping Sheila find happiness, but this makes no sense. If Sheila is finding a fresh Gary each time, June should be just as clueless as he is. (Also, does Sheila sleep? Unclear.)
Eventually, things start to go south, because Sheila finds a way to travel even further back in time in an attempt to “fix” the upsetting incidents from Gary’s youth. His father di lui was never around to play ball with him, so a mysterious uncle (Cuoco in a fake mustache) shows up with a mitt. She also drops by during Gary’s awkward teen years as a Russian pizza delivery girl to liberate him from virginity. When the latest Gary — whose easier path in life has turned him into a bit of a tech douche — learns about this time-warp tinkering he gets angry. Eventually he shouts that he can’t do this anymore. Do what anymore? This is all brand new to him if you follow the logic of this story!
Clearly, some audience members (raises hand) get more hung up on rules than others. Rian Johnson’s Looper and its dismissal about making sense of time travel (“we’re gonna ‘be here all day making diagrams with straws”) is great, but you need a modicum of logic to make the hook work, and Meet Cute simply does not have it.
This would be more forgivable if the scene work were excellent. Though these actors are game, the script is pedestrian. Davidson is his typically low-key charming self di lui, as seen in the quite good The King Of Staten Island and the even better Big Time Adolescence (streaming on Hulu right now if you’ve missed it), and hanging out with him and Cuoco in full daffy mode borders on charming. But there aren’t any clever moments, just a parade of clichés you’ve seen in many other indie romances.
In 2019 Alex Lehmann released another two-hander, the far more successful Paddleton with Ray Romano and Mark Duplass. It, too, is mostly just two people talking, but there’s a depth and humanity that is absent here. Meet Cute has all the unoriginality of a forgettable low-budget picture — and eye-rolling dialogue like making Kaley Cuoco say “all the things!” – plus a central premise that just doesn’t work. Don’t feel bad if you stand this one up.