Words and talking


Between 2005-2016 I wrote more than 2,000 reviews for the Chicago Tribune's RedEye. Here's a good place to start.

A Netflix-and-chill selection you may watch to the end

You can easily dislike “When We First Met” if you want to. “Netflix original movies suck!” “I’m sick of characters reliving the same day over and over again!” “Ahhhhhh he plays piano and works in a jazz bar, that reminds me of ‘La La Land’ and so overrated oh my goddddddd!”

Or, just like relationships, you could give this movie a chance and let it surprise you. 

I mean, granted: The project practically has late-‘80s/early-‘90s nostalgia grab tattooed over its idealistic heart, as Noah (Adam Devine of “Workaholics”), the quintessential nice guy once upon a time played by Jon Cryer and Billy Crystal, pulls a “Big” by wishing on a photobooth for another chance at the first night he met Avery (Alexandra Daddario) and magically getting it. The result is yet another play off of “Groundhog Day” – this already following the recent “Before I Fall” and “Happy Death Day” – but with fun in place of annoyance at each new try.

Speaking of nostalgia, that initial meeting takes place at a Halloween party where Avery’s dressed as Dottie from “A League of Their Own” and Noah is Garth from a movie I shouldn’t have to name so I won’t.

The pop culture references play a lot more genuinely than it might seem, as does a lot of the movie, which, it’s worth mentioning, is neither misogynistic nor racist nor cheap. This isn’t just another shallow story of an awkward guy stopping at nothing to win over his dream girl, with unlikable and obvious characters bending to the whim of the predictable. “When We First Met” has bounce and charm and surprise. Both Devine (earning another shot at leading man status after the failed “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”) and Daddario (“Baywatch,” “The Choice”), given the rare chance to be more than window dressing, enliven the way Noah and Avery adjust their dynamic as Noah tries and retries what version of himself will match up with a girl who only sees him as a friend.


Also, it’s consistently funny. “I can still remember the exact pitch of her laugh,” Noah says as he recalls that first meeting, and director Ari Sandel (“The Duff”) and writer John Whittington (“The Lego Batman Movie”) offer an aural joke combining a high squeal and deep groan. It's definitely not what Avery actually sounded like, and one of many times the film plays with the difference between perception and reality. Noah gets to be playful in how he excitedly approaches his time travel powers, and his best friend Max (Andrew Bachelor) and Avery’s best friend Carrie (Shelley Hennig) are allowed to develop beyond sounding boards for the main characters. 

Unfortunately the New Orleans setting isn't a factor in the slightest, and occasionally the jokes play too broadly, like in one version when Avery and Carrie think Noah is a stalker. (Though it does result in a funny gag of Carrie screaming “Don’t touch her, asshole” and Noah asking, “Don’t touch her asshole?” which is a fair response from someone who has never been called an asshole before.) The nuances of Noah’s desperation and unanticipated impact on the future, with room to learn that nothing real can be forced or entirely suppressed, turn the standard notion of being yourself into more complicated gray areas among not just who “should” be together but who could be together unhappily.

For something with this many laughs to also feel like a worthy indictment of infatuation and warm recognition of the opportunities you miss when looking for other ones makes for a sweet, rewarding romantic comedy that knows how to get from the first photo in the strip to the last.