Producers: Akiva Goldsman, Gregory Lessans, Rachel Reznick Wizenberg, Santosh Govindaraju and Dan Reardon Director: Alex Lehmann Screenplay: Noga Pnueli Cast: Kaley Cuoco, Pete Davidson, Deborah S. Craig, Rock Kohli, Kevin Corrigan, Andrew Stevens Purdy, Wesley Holloway and Mia Matysiak Distributor: Peacock
Time-travel has been employed as a plot device in romantic comedies before, but in “Meet Cute” it’s used to such poor effect that one hopes this will be the last time.
Noga Pnueli’s script begins in medias res, as we quickly learn, when daydreaming Sheila (Kaley Cuoco), at the urging of a bartender (Kevin Corrigan), approaches dour Gary (Pete Davidson) and offers to buy him a drink. He accepts, and before long they’re not only talking but sharing a meal at an Indian restaurant and an ice-cream cone afterward.
He tells her that he’s just broken up with his girlfriend, but his attitude shifts uneasily from amiability to suspicion when she claims to be a time-traveler who’s come back to this night with him repeatedly from twenty-four hours in the future, which is why she knows so much about him, including what he’s about to say. When they finally say goodnight, she says she’ll see him again tomorrow.
And she does—again and again, since she really is from the near future, using what looks like a tanning bed but is actually a time-travel device located in a nail salon presided over by manicurist June (Deborah S. Craig) to return to the same night over and over, falling for Gary more and more with each visit. He, of course, has no idea of the repetition, and as it goes on for a year, she becomes irritated with his persistently hangdog attitude and familiar jokes.
So she decides to refashion him more to her liking by going into his past, undoing the psychological damage he suffered as a boy (Andrew Stevens Purdy) and a teen (Wesley Holloway) by intervening in his life for the better. The result, when she returns to see the outcome of her interventions, is hardly what she hopes for. And yet that’s not the end of the permutations, as Gary has divined the location of the salon and decides to use the machine to return to her past (she’s played as a sad child by Mia Matysiak) to treat the psychological turmoil that left her desperately unhappy, even suicidal, before she met him (and homicidal afterward, since she repeatedly kills her “other” self to avoid duplication).
If all that sounds like too much, it is. But still the overall concept might have worked had it been fitted with some genuinely amusing dialogue and entrusted to two different actors, or at least had director Alex Lehmann been able to coax more attractive performances from Cuoco and Davidson. Sheila is meant to be manic, but in Cuoco’s hands she’s shrilly and unpleasantly so, and Davidson doesn’t bring much to Gary but his usual slacker-guy routine, except for the episode in which he’s been turned into a hot-dog entrepreneur by Sheila’s meddling (in which role, anyway, he’s not terribly convincing). Apart from Craig, whose comic timing is spot-on, and Rock Kohli, as a long-suffering waiter at that Indian restaurant, the supporting cast barely registers.
Aside from the outside light-show at the Panna II Garden restaurant in the East Village, where the duo dines, the look of the movie is almost unfailingly drab, with a dank production design (Laura Miller) and cinematography (John Matysiak) that keeps most everything in shadow apart from some trips to the past. Christopher Donlon’s editing tries to keep the timelines straight, with varying degrees of success, and Stephen Lukach’s score, juxtaposed with pop tunes, aims to add a frothy note but fails.
This movie is definitely about a meeting—or meetings—but cuteness, and more importantly charm, elude it entirely. Perhaps that’s why it’s topped off with a prolonged series of outtakes, in which presumably improvised bits of dialogue (including lots of imaginative descriptions of depressing types of ice cream) are featured. It doesn’t help.