TV-14. Color me surprised. I simply assumed it was kind of raunchy. It does have language. I'm not saying that the language is intense, but it is fairly constant throughout. There's a decent amount of implied sexuality as well, but nothing really hits the screen. I wouldn't show this to a kid under any circumstances, but it is fairly tempered for what it could be. I simply assumed Adam Devine would be in a TV-MA easily. Not so much. TV-14!
DIRECTOR: Ari Sandel
Guys, we did it. We finally found a not super-famous rom-com that was extremely enjoyable for the both of us. It is a bit of a cheat though. Like, I'm counting this as a win and no one can really take it away from me, but it made time travel a central element and it actually did time travel moderately well. I'm going to get this caveat out of the way because I don't want to be ducking out of a train of thought to talk about what I like about time travel. Good time travel is a couple of things. 1) It sets its own rules and sticks with them. 2) It makes you think about how things work in the universe of time travel. 3) It all comes back. 4) It does something new. I hate to say it, but When We First Met covers all of those criteria. I might be a little afraid to watch it again because there's a chance that there might be a giant time travel plot hole, but I kept talking during it about why certain details were happening due to time travel things. I watch romantic comedies to get my wife all twitterpated and all I can do is nerd out over the rules of time travel. My bad. But I wasn't rolling my eyes and I was seriously invested in the movie. That's probably more important.
I heard about When We First Met as a point of controversy. I often talk about my battle with io9 / Gizmodo. I have two websites I check daily: io9 and IGN. I'm not a very deep guy sometimes, guys. But I think io9 linked When We First Met to a Jezebel article (another Gizmodo page) and I read how When We First Met should be tried for setting back gender relations for a while. The thesis of the article was about how it bolstered the problem with the "Nice Guy" trope. For those not woke to this, the "Nice Guy" is actually one of the creepier chauvinists because he doesn't think he is one. He feels entitled to love because he's far nicer than the guy that his obsession dates. He takes care and listens and doesn't do fundamentally horrible things, which means he feels like he should be compensated for this behavior. If I had to analyze myself throughout my history, there were entire periods where I could probably be lumped in with this category. I'm not proud of it, but it is a more frustrating personality archetype. I have to disagree with Jezebel though. (My white male status deems that I have to be argumentative. I apologize to everyone everywhere forever.) When We First Met isn't a validation of the Nice Guy archetype. I think it is a gentle condemnation about why Nice Guys should look at their own caste and change their ways. I think Jezebel is more upset that the directors didn't approach the subject guns blazing. When We First Met is a critique of the Nice Guy that actually kind of has a prayer of making an impact. The protagonist of the movie, Noah played by Adam Devine, is the Nice Guy. He sees his quick friendzoning with Avery, played by Alexandra Daddario, as unfair and, given a magical time machine, believes he can change someone's feelings about him. The big message is that you can't change how someone feels about you. People have feelings. These feelings may evolve. They may change. But they cannot BE changed. Noah fakes personality traits throughout the many timelines to see how Avery responds to him. In some cases, there is a moderate amount of success. In some of the timelines, Avery and Noah end up having some degree of romantic relationship. I can see where Jezebel would have a problem with this. But the thing that they missed is that they are all miserable relationships where neither person is actually genuinely attracted or in love with the other person. In those timelines, every party involved is somehow more unhappy. There's actually a timeline SPOILER where Noah and Avery are to be wed. But this is the timeline that comments most clearly on the Nice Guy archetype. Avery is deeply unhappy in this marriage. She is guilted into something that is toxic at is foundation. I know that Jezebel is fighting the overbearing patriarchy, but I think that Sandal and his team actually might have made a step in the right direction here. This is a movie that actually might change minds. It doesn't yell or scream. But it does show what happens in fantasies are indulged, but in a comical yet thought-provoking way.
But again, it's a comedy. Oh thank God that people get that comedies aren't things just said in a wacky voice. There's a genius writer behind this and a great cast of actors in this movie. I never watched Workaholics. My DVR is full of stuff to catch up on and my Netflix queue just seems to be getting longer and longer. (It's almost like writing an essay on every movie I watch might actually cut out of media consumption time.) I know Adam Devine from his time on Modern Family. (I don't know if he's still on the show. I bailed on that one a few seasons ago.) He was more of a straight man in that show, but he seemed to have the comic chops to maintain the tone of the show. Similarly, he doesn't exactly steal the show in the first two Pitch Perfect movies. (I haven't seen the third one...yet.) But putting him in the spotlight here is a wise move. He's kind of the perfect leading man for this movie. He's not universally attractive, but he's good looking enough to see that he would be confident enough to believe that he was a match for Avery. I mean, the movie makes that seem like it would make sense. The entire time, I knew that the two of them couldn't get together. But I also had the knee jerk reaction when he got friendzoned really quickly. Yes, the logical part of me thought, "Well, there just isn't a connection. No one did anything wrong." But the rom-com friendly side of me questioned what was wrong with him. The movie does something interesting that my wife and I argued over. Noah keeps talking about the night that they met and how perfectly it went. But Carrie, played by Shelley Hennig, points out that she was there that night and it wasn't as perfect as he thought it was. We don't get much information about that line. But there is that whole Rashomon thing that kind of happens. The truth of history is oddly subjective. Our emotional experiences cloud what we think is absolute. From Noah's perspective, he was crushing the best date of his life. From Avery's perspective, Noah was this nice guy who really seemed to get her and that's cool. I do kind of question the kiss on the cheek moment early in the night, but that's just me and my insecurities popping up. But going back to what I was talking about, Adam Devine fills that role and seems to completely understand the dichotomy that is established here. Sure, the movie could have really harped on the subjective truth element of the movie. But that might have overpacked a movie to the point where it would lost the tone that it needed. Also, that one line sold as much as it needed to. The movie already has a pretty solid premise that is really well explored. Adding that extra element sounds like it would just destroy the movie. But I do appreciate that the line is in there.
SPOILER PARAGRAPH: The Carrie relationship is great, but I do feel it is a bit rushed. It also is a bit problematic. When I was watching it unfold, I wasn't sure exactly what I was seeing. At one point, I thought he message was about trying too hard. With Avery, Noah really put on a show. He's being the best version of himself and expecting Avery to fall in love with the showy version of himself. He always saw Carrie as a third wheel, so Carrie never understood Avery's friendship with Noah. But then I saw something that I thought I understood. I thought that Noah stopped trying to be the best version of himself. I thought he was just being himself with Carrie, which explained why Carrie actually liked him. It's that whole "trying too hard" thing. When Noah just was himself, I thought he was far more attractive than the showy version. But then the movie messed with me again. It's complicated, but I kind of like that. Relationships are far more complicated than movies normally allow and I dig that this movie allowed attraction and dating to be far more messy than normal. This is also where the time travel rules came back into play. I loved that time travel actually worked against him in this version of the story. In the Carrie date, she never had the "straw that broke the camel's back" with her old boyfriend. It's such a small detail that I can't believe it played out the way it did. Similarly, I also love that the message is that you don't get safety nets in relationships. Was the universe trying to teach him a lesson using time travel, a 'la Groundhog Day? Man, I might like spiritual time travel better than scientific time travel. NOW I'M THINKING OF THE THEOLOGICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF TIME TRAVEL AND IT'S WEIRD. If God is the one warping Noah and Phil Connors around, then he's allowing them to mess with premarital sex and suicide, quasi-consequence-free. There's also the idea that Noah technically slept with Avery in some of the timelines, but the movie does something smart and doesn't let him experience it or remember it. He's only told that it happened and can see the results of it.
Anyway, I love a movie I can kind of unpack like this. I'm sorry I got really spoilery, but needing to talk about a film means that the film might have some legs to it. When We First Met is one of the best rom-coms I've seen. I don't know if it would ever hit High Fidelity levels, but it is fairly fantastic.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.