Ben (Jack Quaid) is a single man. This summer he has been invited to more weddings than any person should logically go to in a summer, one of which requires flying out to Hawaii. Sounds like the perfect way to get drunk and meet women, something Ben is convinced he is going to do even if his college friend Alice (Maya Erskine) knows better. You see, Ben is a romantic, one convinced of true love, the illusive one everyone but him seems to find. It couldn’t possibly be his expectations are too high.
Alice on the other hand has recently broken up with a utterly forgettable longterm boyfriend and has to contend with a depressing season of weddings all of her own. Alice’s suggestion that they should act as each others plus ones for every wedding at first feels like the contrived plot twist you might expect it to be but directing duo Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer smartly establish their friendship before settling into its rom-com roots.
The opening best man speech, a mixture of endless metaphor and meaningless platitudes is ripped apart and mocked by Alice with acerbic wit and blunt realism like only a friend can. Quaid and Erskine breath absolute joy into Alice and Ben’s friendship but it is the quick patter of the writing here (also by Chan and Rhymer), full of risque cheap shots and well constructed in jokes that proves effective at setting up this duo’s little discussed past while making Plus One easily one of the funniest rom-coms of the last 5 years.
Speaking to a generation brought up on the idea of true love thanks to films much like this one, Alice and Ben’s story is more about the sheer lunacy of expecting that kind of relationship in a world when divorce is more likely than the perfect relationship. Ben’s insistence that it’s all his dad Chuck’s (Ed Begley Jr) fault he is the way he is, while never rejected is subtly ridiculed by everyone that knows him, Alice included. Chan and Rhymer want their characters to own their issues but mainly they don’t want their problems to seems as large as they do in other, lesser romances. Alice and Ben both have jobs, stable incomes and friends, a good relationship would be the cherry on top but these aren’t two lovelorn saps even if Ben is holding onto an antiquated notion.
No, these are just two, brazenly funny people hoping for the best and rebounding in clumsy, self destructive ways when it doesn’t. While Quaid is saddled with a humourless side plot regarding Chuck’s future nuptuals to a woman half his age which feels too manipulative for a film actively playing against type, he still makes the most of a generous script full of wonderful dialogue but its ultimately Erskine that lights up their moments together. Alice is a force to be reckoned with in her hands. Unflinchingly callous and equally vulnerable,moments that almost feel crass and unnecessarily vulgar walk the line thanks to a character who may say the wrong thing but always means the right one.
Although it plays it safe with a finale that feels strangely messy for something so neatly tied away, Plus One is a luminous, enjoyable romp through our preconceived notions of marriage, peppered with excellent comedy, fun side characters and a fair few moments devoted entirely to mocking the entire genre and audience they are playing to. It might not be anything vibrantly bold designed to turn rom-coms on their head but it doesn’t have to be. In the end it just needs to be funny, a little bit romantic and have you believe things might work out in the end, even if they don’t. Ben and Alice might not be the perfect couple in the perfect rom-com but I think in a way, that’s just what Ben needs.