We first reviewed Plus One when it played at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this spring, where it won the Narrative Audience Award. We re-present that review on the eve of it’s theatrical debut.
Longtime friends Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine) have a problem. Both are single and have an inordinate amount of weddings to attend over the upcoming months, and neither wants to go to the various ceremonies stag. So to avoid the stigma of the singles table, they make a pack to be each other’s plus one to every nuptial ceremony on their calendars and snark their way through them all. But as wedding season wears on they find themselves becoming something more than just friends as their defenses against romantic relationships slowly erode away.
Plus One may have something of a big studio romantic comedy high concept, but it resolutely steers away from telling its story with the usual over-the-top histrionics one would expect from the genre. There’s no exaggerated characters or big comedic set pieces involving escalating layers of misunderstandings and ridiculous pratfalls and slapstick. Instead, the film relies on the chemistry between its leads and the characters’ own insecurities to get us rooting for them. And fortunately, Quaid and Erskine’s acerbic performance is more than up to the task.
While it embraces some of the tropes and beats of standard rom-coms, Plus One is also a rather smart repudiation of those films. It shows that a funny and touching story could be told about people falling in love, even if it is against their initial wishes, without having to resort to overwrought gags. The screenplay trusts in its characters’ foibles and insecurities to deliver the laughs. It also works to deflate the Hollywood-ized romantic notion that love has to be true and sure of itself and obviously destined to last forever. Relationships, even the best of them, can be unsure, terrifying things and the move says it is OK to admit that, so long as you don’t let it paralyze you from getting into one.
The screenplay – where each wedding has a “chapter heading” of someone giving an absolutely hysterical terrible toast – is smartly observant as well, as it takes Ben and Alice through numerous different ceremonies ranging from low-key, backyard affairs to an elaborate destination wedding in Hawaii. When Ben meets Alice’s family in the midst of preparations for Alice’s younger sister’s wedding, it could have been very easy to play Alice’s parents as broad characterizations or show Ben’s attempts to fit into the family dynamic in a comedically broad way. Instead writers/directors Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer downplay the scenes, adding a realism that allows us to deeper appreciate the humor in the moment.
If Plus One stumbles, it is only slightly in its second half. The film spends much of its time showing Ben and Alice as not-a-couple, that when they finally do come together, it feels as if we only get to see them for a few moments in this newly-defined dynamic before Ben’s insecurities split them apart. And then once apart, we spend far more time with Ben then Alice before their ultimate reconciliation. This is frustrating as up until then, the film had been giving pretty much equal time to both characters, so the sudden imbalance towards Ben feels awkward. Almost as awkward as being the single person at a wedding.