The films we consume have mood-altering powers; the ability to extract us from our unremarkable lives and immerse us in an alternate reality. And today we are blessed with unlimited access to roaring laughter, trauma-wrung tears, disarming vérité and otherworldly escapism at the touch of a button. But sometimes you just want to watch a movie which sits companionably beside you and makes you smile.
Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine) have been reluctant friends since college where Ben cynically used Alice as a social stepping stone to her more popular roommate. A character flaw which Alice delights in bringing up. A painfully wedding-heavy season throws the pair repeatedly together and they are forced to examine the handicap of their single status in the face of such a violent onslaught of happily ever afters.
In the spirit of all good romantic comedies, the two make a pact. They will be both plus one and wingman for each other in order to survive the ten Big Days which remain. Couples get better table seating, fewer awkward questions about their status and cheaper room rates for the inevitable resort stay. Ben’s physical awkwardness around the more open and mischievous Alice makes for some interesting bedtime negotiating but the plan is a solid one.
Initially exploiting their insider knowledge to pull on the other’s behalf, the irresistible draw of one to the other becomes increasingly evident. Ben begins to rely on the counsel and company of Alice as he navigates the emotions of a pending marriage far too close to home. While Alice, prickly from a break-up and naturally gifted with biting wit, relishes the teasing, nit-picking chemistry they share. It seems only natural for the friendship to evolve.
Writer/directors Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer have crafted a delightful little feature which cleverly relies on the familiar notes of heartache, joy and tedium every wedding evokes and uses them as a backdrop for their splendid leads to learn to quickstep across. The supporting cast is strong – Tom Yi and Rosalind Chao as Alice’s oil and water parents and Ed Begley Jr. as Ben’s thrice-married dad being particular highlights – but everyone else drops away when Ben and Alice are on screen.
With an easy intimacy and cutting repartee evocative of Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, Erskine and Quaid find a truth in the fiction of these characters that makes them a pleasure to spend time around. Ben is undoubtedly the less likeable of the pair but Jack Quaid plays him with something of Joel McHale’s roguishness and vulnerability, a quality which keeps him from crossing the line into utter twattery on more than one occasion.
Like 2017’s fun but flawed Table 19, Plus One does exploit some of the lower hanging comic fruit which weddings offer however it does so with great affection. Francesco Palombo’s perceptive production design helps carry the narrative along as each consecutive wedding becomes more meaningful to the couple and they react to the weight of expectations in widely differing ways.
Deft, daft and wildly endearing, Plus One is rom com done right. From the loving gaze of Guy Godfree’s up close and personal cinematography to the warm observational humour, all the happy boxes are ticked without reverting to cliche or cheese. This one’s a keeper.
Plus One is released in cinemas and across digital platforms on 7th February