I watched Groundhog Day again last week and, for the most part, it still holds up. I got into a debate with someone, however, about why the day finally turned for Bill Murray’s character in the end. It’s not because Andie MacDowell’s character finally fell in love with him; it’s because Phil lived his entire day selflessly. Rita finally falling in love was not what he was seeking; it was a natural byproduct of his altruism.
Still, while it’s easy to forgive that movie — because it’s funny, charming, and made in 1993 — we still need to recognize that Bill Murray used a great many of those 12,000 Groundhog days to try and fuck Andie MacDowell. Basically, the entire second act is Bill Murray trying to get laid. It happens again in About Time — a movie I love — but I am also willing to recognize that it is creepy as f*ck that a guy uses time travel not only to get laid but to perfect his lovemaking skills, to so speak.
Netflix’s latest, When We First Met, takes all the ick we ignored in About Time and Groundhog Day and distills it into a potent combination of the worst parts of Groundhog Day crossed with Insert Friend Zone Movie Here. Adam Devine plays Noah, a guy who meets Avery (Alexandra Daddario) at a Halloween party in 2014. They forge a friendship, but before Noah can get laid, Avery meets Ethan, a better looking, more charming guy (Robbie Amell). Three years later, in 2017, Avery and Ethan are engaged, and Noah is licking his wounds having missed out on his opportunity to make Avery fall in love with him. He gets wasted; he goes to a photo booth; he inserts a coin, and he wakes up in his bed in 2014. He gets a do-over at that Halloween party. In fact, he gets several do-overs.
The wrinkle here, and what allows screenwriters John Whittington and Devine to say that he didn’t completely rip-off Groundhog Day is that, at the end of the night in 2014, Noah wakes up again on the same day in 2017 where he gets to see the consequences of his actions from 2014. They vary in incredibly inane and predictable ways. He plays asshole at the party, and he wakes up in 2017 as Avery’s booty call. He plays it conservatively, and he wakes up in 2017 engaged to Avery and obscenely wealthy, but otherwise friendless and unhappy. Eventually, Spoilers, Noah comes to the same realization as had Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, only it plays out in infinitely less interesting ways.
Every moment of When We First Met could not be more painfully obvious, and that might be forgivable if there were an ounce of humor, a dose of charm, or a decent character in the entire film. But it’s a generic, one-note, humorless comedy that would otherwise clearly be destined for Redbox were it not for the existence of Netflix. It’s a complete waste of Daddario’s best feature, Amell’s considerable charm, and Shelley Hennig, the only actor here who leaves the film with her dignity still intact.
Ultimately, it’s yet another guy-using-time-travel-to get-laid movie, and an unwatchably bad one, at that. I wouldn’t be as mad at it if they took Groundhog Day and attempted to freshen up the premise or tried to dull its predatory edges, but When We First Met would have been a bad romcom in the ’90s. At least then it might have had McConaughey and Kate Hudson instead of Adam Devine, who can be funny, but should not be allowed to carry any film as the romantic lead, even if the point of the film is that he was meant to be the goofy best friend all along.