Almost A Classic: Plus One

plus one indexWell constructed, great title…but why isn’t Netflix making more of these?

The reason I don’t write about a film before I finish viewing it, is there is a chance that it might not be for me. While I have made some exceptions and started writing due to having a thought that belonged in a review, most instances they don’t turn out well. Like an awesome Act 1 and it ends up being something that has been ushered along the: that’s ‘good enough’ box. Startups benefit from this approach because web pages and apps can be tweaked. Animated films do (depending if their process is similar to Walt Disney Animation Studios based on what Pixar Animation Studios have pioneered) and there is no reason that live action ones couldn’t be able to find a way to make it easier to make masterpieces.

I know it’s likely that it’s because there’s a subset of viewers who’d watch them anyway. But I’m not getting into that. I’m not going to get annoyed at the majority of the world because they have different tastes in TV shows or films as I do. What I can tell you is that Netflix has finally started churning films to cater to my specific viewer sensibilities. I don’t think they’re there in terms of Action, but have made headway with the Romantic Comedy section (specifically with ‘Love Wedding Repeat’ and ‘Otherhood’). Currently the three films that serve as my benchmark: ‘About Time’ (Masterpiece), ‘Love Wedding Repeat’ (Lots of Promise), and ‘12 Dates of Christmas‘ (Just Made It Over the Line).

The Setup: Alice (Maya Erskine) and Ben (Jack Quaid) are the kind of humans that love to mock cheesy sappy things. Maybe Alice more than Ben. Alice struggles to put things gently and usually comes across as a person who doesn’t care. So when she points out that Ben needs to tweak the content of his best man’s speech, her longtime friend thinks that she’s just being hurtful. We get presented with two unlikable characters (Ben says something mean to Alice when she hangs around touting her contribution to the speech to get her to hang around elsewhere). Somehow that’s okay. Not because I’m permissive of that behaviour, but because it is the freshness the film needs to tell the story of its two characters as best it can.

The Inciting Incident: Alice finds herself unaccompanied when she heads to Jason and Sarah’s wedding the next weekend. I was already ready to make Alice the protagonist, but the voice over during the last few minutes of the film was done by Ben. This of course makes the actual inciting incident flimsier (but a big sign that Ben is more than happy to be of assistance to Alice — even if it seems like he doesn’t). I’m still reluctant to make it a double protagonist scenario because the climax and the resolution wouldn’t work. So I guess it is similar to Michael Mann’s ‘Collateral‘ where Vincent (Tom Cruise) and Max (Jamie Foxx) are each others protagonist and antagonist. Though it seems like the story makes it clearer that Ben is the protagonist, things get a bit murky when I’m reminded that Alice is the one that starts the whole ‘plus one’ arrangement (which would basically point to Ben’s passiveness during Act 1). She was the one who went through a breakup, and if she was still together with Nate, I doubt that the events would have happened in a way that we were presented. There’s also the fact that Maya gets credited first (I know that is not exactly a confirmation — but I’ll take as many as I could) during the opening credits.

Each time I have a chance to talk about Jim Strouse’s 2007 masterpiece ‘Grace Is Gone’, I will undeniably grab it. I feel like it features John Cusack at his absolute best: allowed to stretch both his comedic and dramatic muscles. Not to mention being supported by the right actors. Usually the environment that this happens is not a big studio film, but a little independent one. This is what the film feels like: that scenes have been reworked when it needed a different approach. Whether it had been fixed during editing (which I doubt — because that would be a feat) or during rehearsals, I would like to have a chance to find out. Even if I don’t, I’m just delighted that this one escaped the conveyor belt of films produced based on a checklist of what viewers want (or at least what predecessors had that it should have).

I must have missed the ” rating, and just noticed it while I was rewatching specific scenes while in the process of getting this piece ‘publish ready’. I had thought that it was ‘M’, and after looking at specific gags and dialogues, it does inch over ‘M’ territory into ‘MA’. One thing that strong language doesn’t offer: allowing vulnerability to seep through. Fortunately for the film (and us), it doesn’t go so far as to lose that ability to show it’s true heart. As I haven’t really seen Maya Erskine in anything else so I’m left with the impression that ‘family friendly’ might not be the best environment for her. Even then, I’m going to hope that she would get a chance to shine in maybe something from Disney or Pixar. It’s also tempting to assume that the film would work with anyone other than Jack, but I feel like it’s sort of a non-overt contribution (we’ll only notice how much he contributes to the film until he is replaced by someone else).

Comedic Moments:

  • Appropriate wedding speeches probably shouldn’t include details of childhood sleepovers
  • A photographer helping unintentional ‘boy band’ cosplayers find the right selection of poses for their non-existent poster
  • Alice giving herself a high-five after finding out that Ben took her advice and changed his whole speech because of what she said.
  • An attempt of the broad Australian accent
  • Juice cleanses for couples are a ‘no-no’
  • Zapburger!

My favourite part is how directors Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer decide to spend the first few minutes of the film. On the one side there is a montage of the kind of speeches parents hope their kids (hopefully at 35 but not too young) weddings would end up and on another is Ben presenting his best man speech to Alice. It’s like we’re being clued in: acerbic humour can work alongside cheesiness. If you’re reading this and have been granted that extra time (and relevant expenses) to ‘level up’ your script, remember that you can find improvements easily in three areas: character, plot, and tone. As a viewer, I hope that you prioritise the first. But if you’re blessed with room for all three, don’t forget to keep cycling rather than aiming to perfect one before working on the other. Maybe you might not have the first few minutes worked out like Jeff and Andrew did, but after you’ve done what you could —- the whole thing might get clearer (it’s all about testing options right?) and at worse you’ll still have a couple of scenes to choose from during editing.

Another thing I’d like to mention is both the score of Leo Birenberg and the song selection (somehow there isn’t a credited music supervisor but the tracks are mostly written by Martin Courtney), it’s where it needs to be: seemingly understated with a hint of earnestness. It moves the plot along without coming across as a temporary track or sounding like it’s imitating others made for the genre. What’s important is that it is also reflective of the journey both Alice and Ben go through: broken hearts. Alice because of Nate, and Ben because of his being unforgiving of his dad moving on too soon after splitting up with his mother.

If I can change details of the storyline, I would be more aware of alcohol consumption (or at least amend the montage — to not include as much alcohol), but I understand that it is part of who the characters are (or at least the ‘culture of celebrations’ in general). I know I’ve said it at least twice when I talked about ‘The Holiday‘ and ‘The Wedding Date‘ in using a very effective drug to bring characters together, and will keep doing so until a film (or a TV show) is able to find an alternative way. The other alternative is getting them to spend copious time with each other, but usually that becomes low-concept. Which is a bit of what the film is and that is the reason that I agree with Anne Cohen that allowing Ben and Alice to the epiphany at the midpoint that going out with each other may not be a bad idea. This approach does connect more if the writers were looking to get Ben closer to his light-bulb moment of: Relationships are a mess, but it doesn’t mean that you just focus on ways it could go wrong than ways it could go right (as well as making a herculean effort to fix what went wrong).

Do I have the answer on why there aren’t more of these titles on the platform? It’s kind of difficult to argue with viewer numbers. So, I understand why executives who are looking for content that they themselves would watch aren’t able to support it more, because the subscriber numbers aren’t there. Sometimes I think of re-subscribing just to make sure my data doesn’t get wiped (it gets deleted if you haven’t subscribed for more than 10 months), and so far I’ve found a reason to keep doing that (there’s at least one title that would have paid for the amount I’ve spent). Interestingly, I’m rethinking that after watching the second documentary from The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) and now am faced with how much value my streaming subscription cycle (whether it is just twice a year) brings me. Not just because it is a good deal (that something might be worth watching), but if it enhances other aspects of my life.

Leigh Lim.
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