Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine) have reached that awkward age. Nearing thirty and still single, their lives have become a mad whirl of watching their friends and family pair up for the long haul with wedding vows, corny toasts, and too much champagne. Unable to further bear the stigma of being seated at the single’s table at events celebrating two hearts becoming as one, they devise a plan to be each other’s plus one. In the comfort of a bantering, scrupulously honest friendship kindled in their college days, when Ben was trying to get with Alice’s roommate, they amiably settle in to making sport of the proceedings as Alice plays wingman for Ben who is searching for his soul mate, and she pines for the man who broke her heart.
Of course these two will fall for another, but that’s where the resemblance to a typical rom-com ends. Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer have appropriated the genre to make a film that parses the zeitgeist of contemporary relationships in a way that is both droll and smart, with two protagonists in Ben and Alice who defy the conventions of the genre, subverting them while at the same time affirming the necessity, pain, and joy of love.
Most of the action takes place at the weddings themselves and feature those ci-mentioned toasts given up to the bride and groom that paint a picture of gauzy romance and happily ever after. The main digression from this parade of bad jokes and good wishes concerns Ben as he grapples with his father’s (Ed Begley, Jr.) impending third wedding. It has little to do with his future step-mother (Perrey Reeves) and everything to do with what Ben sees as all but insurmountable difficulties in finding that soul mate for which he’s questing. After an evening too many toasts and a free-flowing open bar, he and Alice have an unexpectedly serious conversation about that and the resentment she feels for her parents not getting divorced when they should have. It’s the turning point we’ve been waiting for, but it lacks even a whiff of contrivance. These characters are so carefully written, and so expertly played that we have been carefully led here, and can only enjoy the moment. It’s not fairy-tale romance, it’s grown-ups opening up to one another and surprising themselves when they do.
And it manages to be tender and raucous at the same time.
These two are obviously in love, but they’ve skipped the infatuation part, and skipped right to being comfortable enough with each other. From the astute shredding Alice gives Ben over his best man speech that starts the film, to the way he not only hold her hair when she pukes during a porn-and-room-service binge that didn’t ease the pain of her breakup, but also lets her stay the night (as friends), these two are a perfect team. Ben the wistful dreamer with a self-deprecating wit and Alice the realist with a confidently bombastic personality, they each bring out the best in each other. As do Quaid and Erskine, the former a gangly teddy bear with a Jimmy Stewart vibe, and a slight reserve to his beatific smile, and the latter a barely contained Valkyrie of snarky impropriety. You can’t help but root for these two crazy kids.
PLUS ONE encourages us all to see past the tulle and orchids and to see love in a way that may be grounded in the real world, but is no less captivating because of it. Who needs those when you’ve found the perfect partner in crime?