Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine break long-standing rom-com modes in this refreshing, personable love story.
When the romantic comedy genre imploded in the late aughts/early 2010s, the indie world emerged to pick up the slack. Films like Your Sister’s Sister, Obvious Child, Top Five, and Sleeping With Other People brought nuance and bite to familiar romantic formulas. And though studio rom-coms are back in fashion again, Plus One is an indie rom-com very much in that earlier vein. This millennial friends-to-lovers story is ultimately pretty simple, but it’s told with originality and personality that makes it feel freshly enchanting.
Hitting the phase of life where it suddenly seems like everyone they know is getting married, college friends Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine) decide to team up to tackle the summer wedding circuit together. That doubles the number of weddings they’ll have to attend (10 in total), but also means they can avoid the dreaded singles table in the process. That’s appealing to Alice, who recently broke up with her long-time boyfriend and could use all the emotional support she can get. Ben, meanwhile, is looking for a new wing-person now that all his single guy friends have started coupling up. True to her word, Alice pushes Ben (often physically) towards eligible women at the events they attend together. Yet an early hotel room conversation about the ethics of platonic cuddling clues us in that the real spark will be between Ben and Alice.
Thankfully, writer/directors Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer know that we already know where this is headed. Plus One builds up Ben and Alice’s romantic connection early enough that the film has plenty of time to examine what that actually means for their friendship. This isn’t a romantic comedy where one kiss sends the couple off into happily ever after. It’s one that’s genuinely interested in the meaty, messy, high-stakes experience of falling for someone and starting a relationship with them.
Chan and Rhymer have a smart sense of when to subvert rom-com expectations and when to lean into them.
Plus One is at its best when it’s letting Alice and Ben bounce off one another, first as bluntly honest friends and later as something more. Erskine is already a breakout comedy star of the year, having written and starred in Hulu’s middle school fever dream PEN15; in her hands, Alice is a refreshingly prickly, crude, funny romantic leading lady; one who can pull together a glamorous wedding guest look, but who also thinks people who don’t pee in the show are weird. For his part, Quaid combines Dennis Quaid’s confident charisma with Meg Ryan’s appealing neuroticism—reference points that are admittedly easy to call upon considering those two people are his real-life parents.
Erksine and Quaid have strong chemistry together, believably evolving Alice and Ben’s dynamic across 10+ weddings, which range from backyard affairs to Hawaiian destination events. Chan and Rhymer have fun showcasing the differing dynamics of this cornucopia of weddings, using vignettes of reception toasts to set the tone for each one. The wedding settings also provide a unique backdrop on which to watch Alice and Ben’s changing relationship unfold—from hungover diner lunches to quietly romantic dance floor exchanges.
Plus One loses some of its spark in its third act, as it shifts from a story about the distinctive quirks of Ben and Alice’s relationship to a more familiar one about Ben’s commitment phobia. Still scarred by his parents’ divorce, Ben feels it’s pointless to waste time on a relationship with someone he isn’t 100% sure is “the one.” Why invite the potential heartbreak? It’s a relatable fear, which is exactly why the film doesn’t need to spend so much time explaining it over and over again as Ben repetitively talks through his issues with everyone from Alice to his dad (Ed Begley Jr.) to his best friend (Beck Bennett).
Plus One works better as an observational relationship dramedy than it does a more conventional self-actualization story. Alice’s emotional arc is much more subtle and compellingly rendered, which is why it’s frustrating when the film moves away from her to give Ben more focus. (In addition to her sardonic comedic skills, Erskine is a really wonderful dramatic actor.) Even in that weaker last third, however, Chan and Rhymer have a smart sense of when to subvert rom-com expectations and when to lean into them. Plus One isn’t groundbreaking, but for those who prefer grit to gloss in their feel-good romantic comedies, it’s a welcome wedding season treat.
Plus One comes to theaters and VOD Friday, June 14th.