If you watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before you know Noah Centineo’s signature smirk, his loping walk. His portrayal of the swoon-worthy Peter Kavinsky launched Centineo to instant stardom, a near case study in the power of Netflix. (Centineo now has 16.5 million Instagram followers). He’s been called the Internet’s boyfriend and compared to young Mark Ruffalo. And his celebrity only grew as fans of TATBILB learned just how many of Peter Kavinsky’s moves were actually Centineo’s—of his own volition, he moved a popcorn bowl to the floor to avoid it spilling during a scene. He also did that suave pocket spin move in the middle of the cafeteria, pulling Lara Jean closer.
The Perfect Date banks on our sheer appetite for the newly minted star. The film follows Centineo as Brooks Rattigan, a bright but somewhat vacuous high schooler who dreams of getting into Yale but isn’t sure what he’ll do once he actually gets there. He also can’t afford to attend if he gets in. After getting paid to take a classmate’s cousin, Celia Lieberman (Laura Marano) to a school dance, he realizes acting as a paid chaperone might be a viable business model. He asks his best friend Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis) to code a gig economy–style app where, instead of a marketplace, the product is literally Noah Centineo Is Your Hired Date. (The film is also quick to explain that Rattigan will not be hired for sex—he is a “chaperone” and not an “escort” because that would “be illegal” and that’s about as much attention that particular topic gets.)
Plot-wise—after asking you to believe such an app could exist and would be popular—the film unfurls more or less predictably, a boilerplate storyline that involves date montages, breakthroughs about “being yourself,” and becoming so invested in the A plot (dates) that you drive away the B plot (your best friend). It’s a bait and switch romantic comedy, where the love interest Rattigan is lusting after for 90 percent of the film is clearly not who he will end up with. There’s also a bit of mild class commentary, as Rattigan’s aspirational love interest is rich and he is not. He lusts after a classmate’s nice car while working at a sandwich shop with Murph. His father urges him to attend UConn, where he’s been offered a scholarship.
Rattigan’s many “dates” ultimately give way to a parable about what it means to figure out your own identity—the app asks users to pick what traits their hired chaperone will have, making each outing a trial run where Rattigan tries on a new personality. And Lieberman is ultimately the best fit for Rattigan simply because she actually has a personality—or, at least, what has come to passably signify personality in a female lead—the combat boots–wearing type, who is special because she Has Opinions and Isn’t Afraid To Share Them. She’s also a terrible dancer, a fact the the movie brings up multiple times. Centineo’s personal brand is that of “niceness,” and Rattigan is a very similar kind of nice, which works well—his chemistry with Lieberman is pleasant and undeniable.
It sum totals to a film that’s just fine. It has the unmistakable, almost procedural quality of a “Netflix rom-com”—a film that gives viewers what they demonstrably demand, wringing every trend into its most consumable, if predictable, version. You used to have to go to the movie theater and shell out at least $10 to see your favorite heartthrob on the big screen—now you can stream it at home and simply watch your favorite moments over and over. (No shame, I’ve watched TATBILB’s pocket spin and hot tub scenes at least ten times each.) These films are in our homes, they star people we know we like, and we will continue to watch them, which means we will continue to get them whether they’re good or not.
And this isn’t to say a good romantic comedy needs to reinvent the wheel, or to have a fully original plot to be interesting. The best ones often upcycle old tropes by adding personality, quirks, or visual flair—resulting in a kind of frolicsome, Sundance-y time capsule. Or they take a well-regarded text, maybe a Shakespearean romance, and make it modern-day. These recyclings and transmutations are especially true of high school rom-coms, a whole genre unto themselves. But The Perfect Date doesn’t really provide any style over substance, which leaves the film to ride mostly on your proximal enjoyment of Centineo as Dream Boyfriend.
On this, The Perfect Date delivers. Rattigan dons a variety of date outfits that all look fit for a Sadie Hawkins dance—from 80s neon to cowboy. Tucked into these moments are the film’s funniest bits. Rattigan goes to an art show and discusses the pieces with his date with some measure of fluency, thanks to the help of Google and the notes he bought along. He goes on a “practice date” with an endearingly awkward young woman who wants to build up courage. At one point in the film, Rattigan pretends to be a devoted beekeeper (the context for which I won’t spoil.)
But The Perfect Date never really lets Centineo turn on his full charm, the patented charisma that could power LA’s entire power grid. Not once do viewers get to enjoy the recognizable verbal sashay of “whoa whoa whoa”s and “stop stop stop”s that have become a trademark—or some version of these cute tics that could have made Rattigan more distinguishable or likable. He’s hammered into so many different archetypes that his character becomes more of a blank slate ur-man than the kind of love interest you’d lust after. So the film’s blandness is not really shocking. If the film’s central conceit is that Rattigan just isn’t that interesting or individualistic, it tracks that the film itself is the same way.
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