Glancing at other reviews, “Meet Cute” can definitely be labeled “a mixed bag” and “not for everyone,” although one is sorely tempted to ask some of these reviewing schlumps “where the bad woman/bad man touched you and ruined your capacity for joy” based on their high dudgeon.
Here’s what I got out of this “time travel” “50 First Dates/Groundhog Day” riff. Kaley Cuoco is a superheroine. Her superpower? She humanized and made me give a damn about the professionally-annoying Pete Davidson for like, the first time ever.
As a woman who hits on “stranger” Pete in an outer-boroughs sports bar, tells him “I come from the future” and that she’s been taking her shot at him, over and over again, via a time-travel tanning bed behind a Chinese American nail salon, Cuoco runs through her perky repertoire.
She is cute and beguiling, forward and impulsive, impatient and “scary Kaley” over the course of this romantic comedy about loneliness, “messiness” and “our pain is what shapes us.”
Yeah, it’s a time travel rom-com, “Safety Not Guaranteed” meets the Cinematic Canon of Drew Barrymore. But there’s a little heavy lifting going on. All you have to do is carry half the weight yourself.
As Sheila, Cuoco shows up at the bar dressed like an Iowa librarian and drinks and swears like a battle-weary Queens queen. And gun-shy Gary — “We both have old timey names!” — is helpless in her hands.
But as she bowls him over with a dinner invitation, pretends to let him pick from a collection of adjacent Indian eateries and listens to his “a real ‘Sophie’s Choice’ kind of decision,” she laughs and says “I love when you make that joke,” and gives away the game.
Time to “Come clean,” about meeting him every night like this, the sarcastic manicurist (Deborah S. Craig, funny) who lets her time-travel in her tanning bed, and the fact that she knows what he drinks (Old Fashioned) and what he’s going to say…because she’s gone back 24 hours to reset this “perfect” night with a “perfect” guy, an endless “Meet Cute” first date.
Over the course of this Alex Lehmann film (the Duplass-scripted “Blue Jay” was his), Sheila will stumble from perky and bubbly to dark, testy and broken. And poor Gary might never be the wiser, because every night is a “Meet Cute” first date. It’s only when Sheila starts trying to “fix” this insecure, fragile, just-got-out-of-a-relationship loner who folds up like a wet napkin at the merest hint of a mistake, that Gary grows an edge and the “pain” that he’s been through becomes an issue. As does hers.
The sitcom-polished Cuoco barrels through her one-liners, “living life to the fullest, just like ‘The Real Housewives of Orange County,” and makes the cautionary slip “I’m about to ruin your life” land.
Davidson dials down his Dead End Pete Persona, cleans up from his usual “Staten Island stoner” look and ably conveys Gary as a deer in Sheila’s headlights for the early scenes, and the angry, more assertive jerk her “changes” turn him into later.
The couple delivers real pathos in the third act, and for all the comic pop of her manic patter and his strangely subdued responses, it’s Craig’s deadpan manicurist who delivers most of the laugh-out-loud moments here.
Kevin Corrigan as a sympathetic/flirty bartender and Rock Kohli, as an Indian restaurant street hawker with insights into relationships — that he might have read from a Chinese fortune cookie — provide solid support.
Not all of screenwriter Noga Pnueli’s ideas work, and some — how one deal’s with an alternate “me” in the same timeline — are tonally off.
But “Meet Cute” makes for an offbeat spin on its titular rom-com convention, and Cuoco and Davidson give it just enough heart to pay off, something I attribute to Kaley C. because on his own, Davidson can be funnier, but he’s usually as warm as refrigerated cod.
It’s nothing we’d call great, but in an era when no one seems to “get” how to make a rom-com work, it’s bad either.
Rating: TV-MA, profanity, adult themes
Cast: Kaley Cuoco, Pete Davidson, Deborah S. Craig, Rock Kohli and Kevin Corrigan
Credits: Directed by Alex Lehmann, scripted by Noga Pnueli. A Peacock release.
Running time: 1:29