At first glance, Peacock’s quirky new romantic comedy Meet Cute is an instant magnet for cinematic comparisons. There are obvious Groundhog Day vibes, with clear nods to Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s 50 First Dates chemistry, as viewed through a Palm Springs-esque prism. But such comparisons just distract from everything that makes the movie stand apart from those and other rom-coms and time-manipulating movies: a tight, streamlined script and another attention-grabbing performance from The Big Bang Theory vet and The Flight Attendant star Kaley Cuoco.
Meet Cute marks the most high-profile project yet for both its writer, Noga Pneuli, and its director, Alex Lehmann, with the latter having helmed two Mark Duplass-starring dramas in recent years. This is not only because the film is being granted a massive potential audience through its Peacock release, but also because it stars two major Hollywood headliners in Cuoco and now-former Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson. It’s great that the two talents are so naturally genial and easy to watch, since they have to carry the entire movie, with a select few co-stars sporting notable speaking roles otherwise.
Kaley Cuoco stars as Sheila, a newly hopeful romantic who shares a truly magical night with Pete Davidson’s bar-visiting everyman Gary, who is under the impression that he’s totally nailing it with their connection. But what viewers soon discover — via a plot point already made very obvious by the film’s trailer and plotline — Sheila gained access to a time machine that allows her to continuously relive their joy-filled date ad nauseum. Her best-laid plans go awry, however, as she grows weary of her looping habits and sets her sights on using the time machine to “fix” Gary, which is where Meet Cute’s underlying character beats come to a head. It shouldn’t take a film buff to figure out such motives and actions aren’t guaranteed paths to happiness, even if it keeps audiences mostly smiling throughout.
Meet Cute’s time travel rules are smart and not overly complicated.
A time-travel project’s worst enemy can often be its own rule set, especially in cases where more attention is placed on plotting than character. But in the vein of Hot Tub Time Machine, Meet Cute’s sci-fi device is an otherwise normal looking tanning bed, which Sheila learns about thanks to a nail salon manager played by Deborah S. Craig, who would have easily commanded more screen-time in a slightly longer movie. (The Peacock flick clocks in at just under 90 minutes, including end credits.)
We won’t get into Meet Cute’s time-travel tricks here, as not to get bogged down with spoilery elements, but suffice to say, the creative team made a point of keeping that part of the story relatively easy to understand and follow along with. So anyone who balks at this brand of storytelling needn’t worry about falling behind. At the same time, though, the sci-fi sub-genre’s inherent complexities do absolutely allow for obsession-driven trains of thought, with Primer never far from the brain. So if you are into timey-wimey shenanigans, Meet Cute will stick with you for a while after watching.
Kaley Cuoco continues showing off her acting range, while Pete Davidson…is Pete Davdison.
In many ways, the movie would be just as effective as a stage play, given Sheila and Gary’s slightly unhinged tale never strays from the two superstars leading things. In that respect, Kaley Cuoco delivers another fantastic performance all around, even if it doesn’t feel entirely dissimilar from her role of Cassie Bowden in HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant. Not just by way of alcohol-fueled sequences, but through a character whose personality and emotional history isn’t necessarily what one might expect from the bubbly, love-stricken Cuoco seen in the film’s promo materials. Thankfully, she’s perfectly fit to handle the performance gamut with ease.
On the other side of that coin is Pete Davidson, whose performance is about what one would expect with a character who spends a lot of the movie wearing a shirt with his name on it. To be sure, Davidson is enjoyable throughout the film, as his low-key energy fits squarely into Gary’s vibe, and he taps into other zones of acting in key moments when it’s needed. By and large, though, Gary fits right at home with many other roles the New York native has delivered over the years. Pete gonna Pete.
The writing is where the film suffers the most.
Meet Cute’s time travel zaniness and the two leads’ performances are easily championable on any level, and director Alex Lehmann manages to keep things visually interesting throughout, despite the film’s intentionally repetitious nature. Where the movie jukes and jives quality-wise is in its script. Perhaps it’s not a big surprise, given the genre quirks, but certain scenes feel too heavily crafted, whether it’s Sheila mirroring Gary’s dialogue as he’s saying it, or slightly out of place emotional beats. One could argue that Sheila’s questionable actions justify some of it, but not so much for other moments, especially when jokes thud the hardest.
Another somewhat noteworthy issue involves a spoilery plot point regarding Sheila. While I won’t get into details here, Meet Cute deals with some triggering elements that some viewers may not feel are handled with the right amount of sensitivity, in part due to the heavily comedic tone, and in part because of the breezy runtime. The general message of it all is indeed meaningful if you want it to be, but one’s mileage will vary. While I wasn’t so personally bothered in those regards, I certainly can’t speak for everyone.
As a time-travel movie duo, Sheila and Gary aren’t history-changers like Bill and Ted, and they don’t get involved in gross familial circumstances like Doc and Marty. But their story is definitely another unique entry in the annals of cinema, and one that fans may want to watch time and time again, with or without a time travel tanning booth involved.