Review: 'Plus One' Is The Best Rom-Com You Haven't Heard Of
I don’t want to write this review. I just want to watch Plus One again. And again. And again. It’s the little indie rom-com that could. It has no big stars. No big studio promotions. No big-name producer like Judd Apatow or Richard Curtis to throw it onto your radar. It’s just a stupendously funny, tantalizingly prickly, and surprisingly tender tale of the love that blossoms between two friends who are a disaster when it comes to romance. In a word, it’s perfect.
Written and directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer, Plus One follows a pair of old college friends through the perilous wedding season ahead of their 30th birthdays. Having recently split up with her longtime boyfriend, Alice (Maya Erskine) is heartbroken and coping (poorly) by getting drunk at receptions and surly with Ben (Jack Quaid). Always a groomsman never a groom, he’s panicked by this onslaught of nuptials, and so is desperately seeks a meet-cute with his Ms. Right. But with all his wingmen getting married off, Ben is at a loss at how to meet women. So, Alice has the brilliant idea that they can spend the whole season—10 weddings!—as each other’s plus ones. That way she isn’t alone and he can have a wing(wo)man to fling him into the way of blushing bridesmaids. It’s a great plan! That is until Alice and Ben begin falling for each other and things get complicated.
First off, Chan and Rhymer precisely and hilariously paint wedding season as an absurd time that’s cordially inviting a lampooning. Together Alice and Ben mock a groomsmen photo shoot that comes off less macho, more completely confounding. They bounce from one obnoxious destination to another and endure a barrage of truly terrible reception speeches that bring up premarital pregnancies, tedious anecdotes, fart-shaming, and one astonishingly tone-deaf ballad from a desperately lonely Best Man who goes full emo. For anyone who’s been to an eyeroll-inducing reception, Plus One will feel like a crisp high five that lets you know you’re not alone! But also, all these couples with their posh attire and teary-eyed joy and seemingly impeccable lives are the perfect backdrop to set up Alice and Ben’s insecurities.
Alice is a goofball with a mischievous smile and a coarse and sometimes abrasive sense of humor. She describes below the belt personal grooming as “run[ning] the raccoons out of the trash cans,” then adds for clarity and a laugh, “I’ve got a hairy ass and vagina.” In a wedding setting, Alice can be a bit extra. But that’s fine by Ben, who will yelp at her more provocative jokes, but nonetheless runs to her for advice and a pick-me-up when he’s feeling down. Ben’s problem—Alice informs us—is that he’s not interested in dating women, but “ideas.” A child of divorce, Ben is looking for a sure thing when it comes to a serious girlfriend. And no amount of gay tertiary characters warning he’s “overthinking” it will change that. But maybe Alice can.
What’s fun and refreshing in Plus One is that both of its romantic heroes are trainwrecks, but high-functioning ones. Erskine and Quaid ground their characters’ flaws so that Alice and Ben feel vaguely but instantly familiar. Like you’ve definitely run into them at a party before, and you dug the pair of them, quirky as they were. It’s also fun to get to see the girl get to tell the crude jokes, while the guy pulls a look of mock (or maybe genuine) horror. Alice feels like a role written for Erskine, who handles each crude punchline and goofy gambit with charming bravado. And hey, it may have been as Chan and Rhymer have worked with her before in shorts and on her excellently zany yet tend Hulu comedy series Pen15.
As for Quaid, I’m far more familiar with the work of his parents (Dennis Quaid and rom-com queen Meg Ryan) than his own. So I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was easily won over. For one thing, he has a sharp physicality and expressive eyes that make him a stellar straight man for Erskine’s antics. That’s not to say he doesn’t get jokes. He made me guffaw with his frustrated bedtime declaration of, “I’m a full-blown man!” And as Ben and Alice melt into a cozy coupledom, Quaid’s stiffness softens into a delightful goofiness. I bought these two as people who really liked each other as friends. And briefly, I worried that this platonic energy—as radiant as it is—wouldn’t translate when things heated up. I’m so happy to say I was wrong to doubt them.
Erskine and Quaid have exhilarating sexual chemistry. They both give us funny and flawed characters who are clumsy with their hearts. And when they throw themselves together, I literally gasped with excitement. An unusual hook-up in a spooky setting manages to be not only hilarious but also pretty damn hot. When the pair inevitably have the low-point fight, Erskine and Quaid project hurt and panic so sincerely that it stings. When she gulps, “I love you, dumbass!” I felt the love, the pain, and the risk behind that statement. Through a nimble, barbed, and poignant third act, my heart was their plaything as it plaintively pined for their reunion.
In short, Plus One is a solid concept with stellar execution and a profoundly terrific leading pair. It’s hilarious and heartwarming with just enough edge to keep it exciting.
Trust me on this: SEEK IT OUT!
Plus One is in theaters, on digital and on demand on June 14.
Header Image Source: RLJE Films
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