Romantic comedies can be fluffy as a feather and still be entertaining, and upon first glance one may guess Plus One is headed in that direction. Powered by organic, lived in performances by Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid, the film raises those stakes and succeeds in an unabashedly honest manner.
Alice (Maya Erskine) and Ben (Jack Quaid) are longtime friends with enough college stories to probably last ’till death do they part. On the cusp of 30, these buds are exasperated over attending weddings, and they decide to pair up as a couple and put on a brave (or at least socially acceptable) face. Although this deal nearly doubles their yearly wedding output, they decide going it alone at any of these shindigs would be a total downer.
From the jump it appears Alice is getting the short end of the stick at the relationship, as she’s the proverbial wing woman for Ben’s random wedding hookups. Unconsciously narcissistic, Ben is a total taker who fashions himself as a nice guy when, in truth, he’s absolutely selfish. Still heartbroken over a breakup with an ex, Alice’s desire for a wedding companion, despite her refreshingly sarcastic nature, stems from a fear of loneliness.
Ben knows Alice is in emotional turmoil, but he’s perfectly fine keeping her at a relative distance. For most of the narrative, Ben’s nurturing skills are as low as can be, and initially refusing to be his father’s (Ed Begley Jr.) best man is simply the tip of the iceberg.
Plus One’s heart and soul is actually Alice, a person who doesn’t mind putting her flaws and neuroses out there for people to see. Erskine, a creator of the Hulu series Pen15, has confidence and charisma for days, and ultimately her innate magnetism and fearless approach to Alice makes Plus One a memorable viewing experience. Quaid is also solid as the guy who really needs to get his head on straight, and he ultimately plays the perfect foil to Erskine.
During the film’s opening chapter, I actually questioned the chemistry between the leads, and co-directors Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer approach this very notion by having Ben feel the same way about Alice. Though he doesn’t believe he’s a love ’em and leave ’em type of guy, Ben’s single minded pursuit of the perfect girl (here played by Brianne Howey) is downright desperate.
Shame on me for sharing Ben’s own perception of perfection, as it’s easy to see why he and Alice should take their friendship to another level. Since this is an uplifting romantic comedy, it’s obvious to see where the story is headed, but the journey getting there is a ton of fun.
Quaid’s mother Meg Ryan starred in cinema’s top film regarding best friends becoming lovers with When Harry Met Sally, and while Plus One is an indie variation of that story, it completely carves out its own territory. Erskine and Quaid’s chemistry gets better as the tale progresses and we really get to see the truth behind their respective, deceptively easy going facades.
Life is more than a series of wedding parties, but that doesn’t mean a celebration of love should be placed on the back burner. Armed with plentiful one-liners and engaging performances by the leads, Plus One may give us a sugary sweet finale, but thankfully there’s enough bite and realism to keep those cavities away.
Rating: 4 out of 5
***Plus One is now playing in theaters and is available on VOD and Digital HD.