Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer’s Plus One follows Ben (Jack Quaid), a 20-something college graduate who’s the vice president of a start-up. At the film’s start, Ben is not only hopelessly single, but his college friends have flooded his mailbox with wedding invitations. To lessen the pain of watching so many happy people make vows of eternal love, he and Alice (Maya Erskine), a friend who’s just suffered a nasty break-up, agree to attend all these weddings together as each other’s plus ones.
As you might expect, Ben and Alice’s arrangement quickly turns into something more serious. After the two of them get drunk one night and have sex in a graveyard, they realize that they have feelings for each other and decide to become “a thing.” But while Alice wholeheartedly throws herself into this new relationship, Ben turns out to be pickier. He’s the kind of guy who wants to be absolutely sure he’s found his “true love” before making commitments – and as he sees it, Alice just doesn’t meet that bar.
Generally speaking, the main issue with Plus One is that it claims to be something it isn’t. On the one hand, Chan and Rhymer are seemingly aware that the rom-com genre has a reputation for being soppy and cliché. As such, they pepper their script with irreverent lines that try to make Plus One seem “better than all that.” For instance, when Ben tries to make a heartfelt declaration of love towards the film’s end, Alice remarks, “I really can’t handle a big speech right now, Ben,” and Ben responds by saying that he’ll only make a “medium speech” instead.
The problem, however, is that Plus One’s irreverent attitude is just a façade. Because when it comes down to it, the film’s narrative conforms to just about every cliché in the book. The two protagonists claim to be completely uninterested in one another romantically – until they aren’t. Right before the ending, the two of them have a big argument that seems to spell the end of their relationship – until it doesn’t. And despite Alice’s admonition about “big speeches,” Ben still ends up delivering a tearful, cheesy monologue about how wonderful Alice is.
It doesn’t help Chan and Rhymer’s case, either, that Erskine’s character proves problematic. For much of the movie, Alice is portrayed as the opposite of sentimental, the kind of person who rolls her eyes at talk of “finding the one” and casually talks to strangers about her sex life. But her sassiness all but vanishes during her aforementioned argument with Ben, in which she breaks into tears and complains about Ben’s inability to see that love “is standing right in front of you.” In these and other instances, it feels like the film is falling back on the stereotype of the emotional and needy woman.
In Chan and Rhymer’s defense, however, they do get a couple of things right in Plus One. Familiar as it often is, the script does contain a lot of funny moments. More importantly, Erskine and Quaid have good chemistry. Bad performances can easily ruin rom-coms, but to their credit, Erskine and Quaid demonstrate an intimacy that feels both genuine and entertaining to watch. Even if Plus One generally fails to satisfy, Erskine and Quaid together ensure that the whole experience isn’t entirely worthless.