I wasn’t expecting much when I put on When We First Met the other night. It was on Netflix, and I wasn’t in the mood to commit to watching a full series. It managed to be just good enough that I was both pleasantly surprised at how it averted and deconstructed some of the issues a lot of rom coms face and disappointed at how it reverted to old cliches at the end.
The premise: a magic photo booth takes the lead character back in time to relive the day he met the friend he’s in love with. It’s a skeevy thought – a guy that’s so fixated on this girl that’s never been interested in him feels so entitled to have her, he’s willing to completely change his life, not because he has regrets that he wants to fix, but because he thinks changing his choices will make the girl fall for him. To the movie’s credit, it didn’t rely on stripping away the girl’s autonomy, nor on vilifying any of the other characters. That wasn’t the happy ending.
The first time he went back, he used his three years of knowledge to say everything he thought she’d want to hear. It was manipulative and creepy and downright invasive, and she rightfully called him out on being a weirdo stalker. Her roommate beat him up with a plant. Her fiancé tackled him. That scene stood out in the movie – it was actually pretty funny. Sadly, he didn’t learn the lesson he should have – that he should stop being an obsessed creep and be thankful for the friendship he wouldn’t have if she knew how much of an obsessed creep he was – and came to the conclusion that the problem wasn’t that he was being creepy, but that he hadn’t been sneaky enough about his creepiness.
At the end, after a few more missteps, he went back one more time to redo the night by doing what he’d done the first time, but there was something that made me uncomfortable about why he did it. It would have been one thing had he done it because he realized that he didn’t have the right to keep screwing with the lives of people that are supposed to be his friends. But he did it because he wanted to do the same thing again, just with a different end goal – this time, he wanted a chance with the roommate.
By the end, it just felt pointless. It wasn’t good, but neither was it particularly bad. It was just an hour and a half of nothingness that I could forget I even watched. It’s not something I have any interesting or intelligent critique to make about why it’s good or bad, because it just was. The director does have the capacity for genuinely funny comedies – he made West Bank Story, which I found hilarious in a crossing the line twice kind of way, even if I felt bad for laughing. Even When We First Met had its moments, what with the using a plant as a weapon thing. But it felt overly long, and the sweet/funny bits were matched by a creepiness that, if much better than it could have been, was definitely present, resulting in my overall impression being: meh.