When We First Met Review

Energetic performances and a pivot from the initial premise make When We First Met a largely fun time travel romance.

When We First Met on Netflix

Ari Sandal’s When We First Met is a standard rom-com, buoyed mostly by energetic performances from its young cast. On the whole the movie is cute and not a bad way to spend an evening streaming, though it contains a fair amount of eye-rolling concepts about dating. Most of that charm comes through in the back half of the movie, once Noah course-corrects his goals, and the story becomes more engaging. Mudbound it ain’t, but it’s eminently more watchable than, say, A Christmas Prince.

Adam Devine plays Noah, a young guy attending his friends’ engagement party as he chugs tequila to forget the fact that he’s in love with one half of the couple, Alexandra Daddario’s Avery. Noah and Avery met three years and one day earlier, on Halloween. They had a magical evening that ended with a hug and friendship, which Noah believes was cemented by Avery meeting her now-fiancée Ethan (Robbie Amell, reuniting with Sandal after The DUFF) the next day.

Through the power of a magical photo booth in the style of Big’s fortune teller, Noah repeatedly goes back to Halloween of 2014 and then forward to November 1 of 2017 to see the ripples created by his changes, until he finally gets it right. His friend Max (Andrew Bachelor) and Avery’s friend and roommate Carrie (Shelley Hennig) also make appearances, and the fashion, work, and love lives of all five characters change dramatically with each iteration of Noah’s quest. Think of it as Groundhog Day, but with a fast-forward element that shows Noah the wisdom or error of each choice, giving the whole thing a bit of a Sliding Doors effect.

The movie largely rests on Adam Devine’s performance, which is more of what we’ve come to expect from him. Yes, he sings, but in the way a human being who loves music naturally would – no big song and dance numbers here. Devine is more like Jack Black than he’s ever been, mixing jokes, pop culture references, and charisma, and at points if you closed your eyes you might just mistake one for the other.

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Noah’s friend Max is a bit neglected (including in the final timeline), which is too bad because Andrew Bachelor was endearing. Robbie Amell does a good job keeping his character from being flat or just the jerk that gets the girl, but it’s Shelley Hennig who steals almost every scene she’s in. After some wooden delivery early on, she finds her footing and pulls the story in her direction.

This movie largely did well managing its internal time travel logic, with one exception. In one timeline, a modern version of Noah inexplicably knew his colleagues’ names and an entire foreign language in spite of the fact that every other timeline makes comedic work of what a fish out of water Noah is in his own life, each time he arrives to a new alternative present tense. Other than that, it was refreshing to see a time travel movie that showed genuine reactions, like with Avery and Carrie decide Noah’s insider knowledge of their lives mean he is a stalker and proceed to bludgeon him with a shrubbery.

There’s a Damien Chazelle-level of White People Conspicuously Loving Jazz in When We First Met, and it tends to be less fun to watch than Adam Devine’s goofier musical moments, like a drunken singalong to “Shout.”  

The trailer and premise of this movie made me wary, as they’re reminiscent of About Time’s “time travel is a good way to get laid and fall in love” ethos. But Noah’s forays into the past and his alternate present eventually establish that Noah’s idea of what it means to fix his life is pretty flawed – everything is in service to getting the girl.

The movie’s sexual politics can be a bit hard to stomach at times – after all, the entire movie is predicated on the premise of the Friend Zone, an antiquated notion that if you put enough friendship tokens into a woman, sex should come out. When Avery hugs Noah goodnight instead of kissing him, it’s intercut with archival footage of wars and disasters, backed by an ominous, operatic musical cue. Several beats of that nature make the movie feel awkwardly antiquated in the way it treats women, as though it came out five years ago.

When We First Met isn’t all that interested in holding its hero accountable – the fact that he has projected a whole set of character traits onto Avery is seen as a mix-up or a lie that Avery told, ignoring the three years of friendship, during which he apparently loved her but learned nothing about her. Throughout his adventure, Noah speaks over everyone, but it’s particularly glaring when he does it to Avery and Carrie. Both women try to get to know him on a real level in various timelines, but he’s so busy talking over them that it takes him twice as long to learn his lessons.

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Negging and pickup artistry are never named, but the tactics are used. Max seems like a good guy, but even his pursuit of Carrie is more persistent than one would hope. There’s a confused Bill Cosby joke, and the version of Noah from the asshole timeline includes things like a “tranny” joke. It can be hard to pull off having a character say something that the writer (John Whittington) and audience find objectionable, particularly if the character is rewarded for that behavior with sex.

Luckily, Noah’s journey eventually shows him how much he values not only his own happiness, but also that of Avery, Max, Carrie, and even (maybe) Ethan. Noah’s friendships and his passion for music are incredibly important to him, even if he didn’t always appreciate that. Once that turning point happens, the movie becomes a lot more watchable.

Rating:

3 out of 5