After Sheila and Gary meet one evening at a bar, they immediately hit it off and share a magical night together in New York City. And then Sheila reveals she’s a time traveler who has shared the same night with Gary for the past week… because it’s the first time she’s been truly happy in years. Sheila continues to relive the same date over and over, convinced that the only thing that could follow such perfection is a downward, messy spiral into misery. But with each week and then month that passes, things begin to change and Sheila must learn that you cannot freeze time to change the future.
Meet Cute is definitely not what I expected when I sat down to watch it. To be fair, I hadn’t watched the trailer and knew virtually nothing about the plot beyond the basic synopsis, so it definitely made for an interesting initial viewing.
Kaley Cuoco is Sheila, a woman struggling with depression who finds one perfect night of happiness with Gary. The problem is, Gary has only known her for a night and discovering you’re a stranger’s reason to live is a heavy weight to carry. Cuoco gives a fantastic, multifaceted performance as Sheila, who can be both adorably awkward and frighteningly caustic.
Pete Davidson shows some range as Gary, charming and laid back, seemingly more than content to just take a ride on Sheila’s crazy train, even when it ends in disaster. The two leads have enough chemistry on screen to make you root for them, even when Sheila’s tipped over into manic desperation and Gary is cautiously taking a step back for the safety of his own sanity.
This movie is going to get comparisons to Groundhog Day and Palm Springs, rightfully so, but Meet Cute pushes itself even further with the darker side of time travel. Sheila’s suicidal urges are not exactly played for laughs and her depression existed long before she discovered the time traveling tanning bed. She’s not stuck in a time loop like the protagonists of the other two movies, but she’s stuck in life and thus reliving the same perfect night over and over is a different kind of time travel hell that she can’t seem to let go of.
Beyond the tanning bed time machine (double feature idea with Hot Tub Time Machine?), I think Meet Cute shoots for more realism than most romantic comedies. Director Alex Lehmann hits a lot of dark notes, but it’s done in such a way that it never feels contrived or manipulative. Real people experience trauma and moments of worthlessness. Can love really cure everything? Would going back in time to change dramatic moments in our lives make us different, or better, people? Lehmann poses these questions and more and while they’re interesting to ponder, we only ever see the truth through Sheila’s eyes.
We don’t know why Sheila is so sad, beyond the knowledge that her dad was an alcoholic who died and her mother was neglectful. We know even less about Gary beyond a snippet here and there, which does a small disservice to how much we’re supposed to care when Sheila changes his past to “fix” him. I understand that this is an 89 minute movie so they can only do so much, but without a lot of backstory to Sheila and Gary, it’s sometimes hard to understand their motivations.
Still, Meet Cute is definitely worth a watch. It flips the romantic comedy genre on its head and, gasp, makes us think. But is there a happy ending? Does the sun eventually rise for Gary and Sheila? Watch and find out. Meet Cute is streaming now on Peacock.