The fact that a romantic comedy is an independent production rather than a big studio job is no guarantee it will be better than the Hollywood norm—a point clearly proven by “Plus One,” written and directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer.
The plot is nothing if not clichéd. Pals Alice (Maya Erskine) and Ben (Jack Quaid) each have a calendar full of weddings to attend during the summer, and no one to go with them—she recently broke up with her boyfriend Nate (Tim Chiou), and he hasn’t found a steady. So they decide to be each other’s plus one at festivities where he’ll help her through her drinking binges and she’ll assist him in getting dates, though she has to contend with his dream of meeting the right person, as they say in the romcom trade, “cute.”
One doesn’t need to be a genius to predict the outcome of this plan. The two spar and protect one another’s back until they realize, shall we say, that the perfect person was…drum roll, please…standing right in front of them all the time!
So the picture takes us through a succession of weddings, including—as a sudden addition—that of Ben’s much-wed father (Ed Begley, Jr.), a likable if somewhat daffy fellow who asks his son to be his best man. Begley is certainly an asset here, as he always is; so is Rosalind Chao as Alice’s mother. In fact, the supporting cast overall is quite good, including the fellows who appear in the series of “best man” toasts that punctuate the action, acting as transitions from episode to episode.
But, as in so many of these formulaic pieces, everything depends on the quality of the writing and your reaction to the leads. With respect to the former, the judgment has to be that the screenplay is better than the average for such stuff, with occasional amusing quips and a few sequences that add depth to the cartoonish premise.
Regarding the stars the response is more ambiguous. Quaid makes an amiable schlub, but not much more than that. He brings an everyman quality to the character that’s engaging enough, but the degree of spinelessness seems all too realistic.
Erskine is a more debatable proposition. Alice is intended to be charmingly off-kilter, but the actress is perhaps too realistic in capturing her dark side, making her not just caustic and belligerent, but often positively unpleasant (as well as blotto). It’s hard to be likable, to be honest, when you’re vomiting into a wastebasket and making your friends not only concerned about you but embarrassed by your bad behavior. You might consider Alice a wounded little bird in need of sympathy and support; on the other hand, you might find her pretty miserable company. The way you go will probably determine your overall opinion of the movie.
The tech credits are adequate, if little more: Guy Godfree was the cinematographer, Francesca Palombo the production designer, John Daigle the editor and Anne & Hannah the costumers, while Leo Birenberg contributed the score (there are also some original songs in the mix).
“Plus One” is about on a par with “Table 19,” Jeffrey Blitz’s outsiders-at-a-wedding comedy of a couple years ago. Like that movie, it’s a moderately amusing romcom but, in the end, nothing special—the sort of thing premium cable was invented for.