We were limping into the final days of the summer of 2018 when a star was born. Sure, ingedude Noah Centineo had been kicking around TV for years. But with the release of Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before he was swiftly ushered into the auspicious ranks of Internet Boyfriend. Part of it was the appeal of his character, Peter Kavinsky, who gave butt squeezes and love notes with the same relish he guzzled yogurt drinks. Part of is Centineo, whose enthusiasm had us thirsting, and not just for Yakult. Those dark eyes, bold brows, and that low, slightly raspy voice were swoon-worthy and somehow familiar, because seriously how is he not related to Mark Ruffalo!?
Last summer, Centineo seemed like a young Ruffalo clone who’d been sent to this dark timeline to give us the rom-coms from which Ruffalo had moved away. (We’ll always have 13 Going On 30!) But with Netflix’s latest Centineo rom-com, The Perfect Date, it seems this husky-voiced hottie is gunning for another leading man’s legacy. Of course, I’m talking about ’80s teen heartthrob Patrick Dempsey.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s begin with The Perfect Date.
Centineo stars as Brooks Rattigan, who—despite that name—is not the sneering and rich rival in an ’80s teen comedy but a working-class teen with a dispirited single-dad (Matt Walsh), a day job at a sub shop, and Yale ambitions. Brooks believes if he can get into Yale then he’ll have secured his path to the sweet life he sees enjoyed by his wealthier peers: the cool cars, the big houses, the seeming escape from discontent. But how can a boy like Brooks afford Yale? By being a gigolo! A fateful encounter with a mouthy rich jerk clues Brooks into the untapped market of bored rich girls looking for the perfect date. With the help of his tech-wizard bestie Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis), Brooks builds an app where girls can purchase his time and send him a memo on exactly who they want him to be. A jaunty montage has Centineo playing Ken Doll fashion show in an array of different looks: art poseur, tennis pro, salsa dancer, and cowboy. For one anxious girl, he’s date practice, coaching her on how to make small talk. For another, he’s a douche at the dinner table who talks about sex and pooping to horrify her parents, so that her actual boyfriend will seem a blessing when he’s finally revealed.
It’s a cheeky premise that seems like it could have a lot of fun with Centineo’s appeal, giving us peeks at the variety of dream boy fantasies he’s capable of playing. But The Perfect Date races through these dates and leaves offscreen many of his clients so that it can focus instead on Celia (Laura Marano), the predictably cynical rich girl whom Brooks is destined to fall for. But Marano and Centineo don’t have the same sparks that he shared with To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s leading lady, Lana Condor. So the central romance felt underwhelming and frankly like it was getting in the way of the fun that could be had with the central concept. Basically, I liked The Perfect Date better when it was called Loverboy.
In the 1989 Patrick Dempsey sex-comedy, Dempsey starred as Randy Bodek, a college slacker whose dad is threatening to cut him off. To get back to school next semester, he needs to make cash quickly, and his job as a pizza delivery boy doesn’t seem to be cutting it. Then, a fateful meeting with a rich middle-aged woman (Barbara Carrera) leads him into the unexpected gig of gigolo. An array of such women (who we’d now call MILFs or cougars) begin to order Randy (I just got that his name is a sex joke) up for not just sex but a bit of romance. And much hijinks ensue, along with plenty of saucy scenes that have Dempsey stripping down.
Now, The Perfect Date is not technically a remake of Loverboy. The former is actually based on screenwriter Steve Bloom’s 2016 novel The Stand-In. It’s just a coincidence that both plots center on a hot young man with a day job in fast food who makes money for college by becoming a gigolo. It’s also a total coincidence that Brooks Rattigan and Randy Bodek have the same number of syllables in their names and the same initials, just reversed. Total coincidence. Move along, nothing to see here. But with these coincidences in mind, I couldn’t help but feel like The Perfect Date was a blandly sanitized version of Loverboy, which was maybe not a good movie but at least delivered the goods! And by that, I mean plenty of opportunities to swoon over its leading man while laughing at his missteps.
Even from the trailer, you can see there’s plenty of hanky panky in Loverboy or at least plenty of foreplay and the suggestion of sex. After all, this was a PG-13 movie. (Oh, the ’80s!) By contrast, Brooks does not sleep with or even make out with any of his clientele. And he bristles when called “gigolo” or “hooker.” He prefers the term “chaperone” or “bespoke concierge service.” And yes, it could be potentially problematic to portray a teen boy pimping himself out sexually to rich girls, but there’s something irksome to The Perfect Date’s implication that the fantasy for teen girls is all costumes, cute boys, and no sex. No making out. No kissing. Basically, The Perfect Date feeds into the sexist idea that teen girls don’t have sexual desires, while also trying to peddle teen girls a movie starring a young man who inspires thirst. Hm. Could it be that Netflix made a teen rom-com not so much for teens but for families? That might explain the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer dialogue with Murph in which Brooks Rattigan explains, in tedious detail, how he won’t get physical with any of his dates. Don’t worry, parents! This won’t get weird! And your daughters totally haven’t humped that pillow you’re lying against!
Admittedly, my memories of Loverboy—while warm—are vague. I mostly remember shirtless Dempsey, eye-rolling, Kirstie Alley, anchovies, sexiness, and silliness. But I do remember that female desire was a major element. And that’s better than what I can say for The Perfect Date, which seems so devoted to being “appropriate” that it forgets to be fun. Plus, part of the excitement of Loverboy was that it felt like something I should sneak! And I did! Away from my parents, I watched it over and over and swooned before I even understood what that feeling meant. But The Perfect Date doesn’t need to be secreted away. It’s as racy as a birthday card from your grandma and as rebellious as wearing khakis to church.
Beyond all that, The Perfect Date made me feel old. Not because it’s a teen movie and I’m a grown woman. In part, because it reminded me of a 30-year-old teen movie that somehow was allowed to be far more risque. But mostly because of its pop culture references, which spoke to me, but made me wonder if they’d make sense for teens today. Over the course of The Perfect Date, Brooks Rattigan makes references to Friends, Napoleon Dynamite and Seinfeld, specifically quoting George Costanza. Is that a thing teens do today? Because to me, it felt very:
Overall, The Perfect Date is a family-friendly teen rom-com that works so hard to be appropriate it fails to be exciting or fun, and so does a disservice to the teen comedy that coincidentally paved its way.
Header Image Source: Netflix