2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Plus One’

May 5, 2019

by Carla Hay

Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid in "Plus One"
Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid in “Plus One” (Photo by Guy Godfree)

“Plus One”

Directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 28, 2019.

Traditional romantic comedies whose two central characters are a man and a woman typically follow this formula: “Boy meets girl. Boy and girl hook up/fall in love. Boy loses girl because of an argument, misunderstanding and/or fear of commitment—take your pick. Boy and girl make up and reunite in the end.” The couple in the story either can’t stand each other when they first meet, or they’re longtime friends who discover they have romantic feelings for one another.

Taking all of these clichés into account, “Plus One” is as predictable as they come for romantic-comedy plots. However, the entertaining dialogue and winning performances of the movie’s cast make the film an enjoyable and breezy ride. It’s also rare to see an American rom-com with an interracial storyline between a white man and an Asian woman. Their racial differences are mentioned for a few jokes in the movie, but it’s not a source of tension in the story, since all the main characters in this movie are accepting of people from different cultures.

In “Plus One”—the first feature film from writers/directors Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer—Jack Quaid is Ben King and Maya Erskine is Alice Mori, two friends who have known each other since their college days. Ben and Alice are in an age range (late 20s to early 30s), when many of their peers are getting married, but Ben and Alice are still struggling with finding their life partner. Ben is fairly choosy about what he wants, and most of his relationships end because his partner has a flaw that he can no longer tolerate. Alice is less judgmental about the people she dates, but she might be a borderline alcoholic, and her raunchy, no-filter personality screams “hot mess,” thereby driving away a lot of potential partners. She’s also still hurting from a recent breakup from ex-boyfriend Nate (played by Tim Chiou), who dumped her.

So what are two lovelorn singles to do when they’re invited to several weddings in one summer? They agree to be each other’s date (or “plus one”) to all of the weddings. One of the weddings happens to be that of Ben’s twice-divorced father Chuck (played by Ed Begley Jr.), who’s marrying a woman young enough to be his daughter, much to Ben’s disapproval. To make things even more awkward for Ben, his father asks Ben to be his best man.

The weddings take place in different parts of the world, so it’s unclear how Ben and Alice (who are working professionals) have been able to take all that time off from work to globetrot to all of these weddings. But those are the kind of details that romantic comedies such as “Plus One” aren’t really concerned about explaining. The main concern that these kinds of movies have is to get audiences to root for what we all know is going to happen.

The movie opens with Ben rehearsing his speech as a groom’s best man, so that Alice can critique the speech. Awkward wedding speeches are used as comedic devices throughout the entire film. At this particular wedding, Alice does what she does at pretty much all of the weddings in this movie: She gets drunk.

Since Alice has decided she’s going to be Ben’s “wing woman,” she tries to play matchmaker for him at the wedding receptions. However, Alice’s idea of introducing Ben to a woman is to shove him hard enough to fall down near the woman.

Ben is literally the straight man to wacky Alice, who’s a foul-mouthed, crude partier with immaturity issues. But there are hints that she’s attracted to him. When they have to share a hotel bed, due to a series of events that force them to take the only hotel room available to them, she wants to cuddle with Ben and tickle-scratch him, but he refuses.

Perhaps stung by the rejection, sharp-tongued Alice tries to convince others (and maybe herself) that Ben isn’t a suitable love partner. Some of the zingers that she puts out there include, “Ben doesn’t date people. He dates ideas.” Later, she tells Ben, “Someone as grotesquely tall and skinny as you doesn’t have the right to be picky.” Even with the sarcastic put-downs, Alice shows a vulnerable side to Ben, when she confesses that her long-married parents are miserable together, thus revealing her own issues with commitment.

When Ben finally meets Alice parents, we see a familiar pattern: Alice’s mother Angela (played by Rosalind Chao) is the tactless motormouth who pries into other people’s love lives (just like Alice), while Alice’s father Mitch (played by Tom Yi) is the calmer, more polite partner (just like Ben). People who know the rom-com formula can figure out what happens with Ben and Alice. Are Ben and Alice the type of people you would want to be friends with in real life? Alice’s drunken antics and rants would be embarrassing to any sane adult, but spending less than two hours with her and Ben on screen is amusing enough for some laughs and some sighs of relief that most wedding guests never act like Alice.

RLJE Films will release “Plus One” in select U.S. theaters on June 14, 2019.