A movie like Meet Cute, a time-travel rom-com now streaming on Peacock and starring Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson, can’t come with expectations. Ask one person if this premise and cast sound good to them, and they might look at you like you just crawled up out of a sewer drain and started moving toward them at an uncomfortably fast pace. Ask another, and you’ll get an eyebrow raise of anticipation: “Hm! That sounds fun. I love Kaley in The Flight Attendant. Is Pete still dating Kim Kardashian?”
Ultimately, not knowing what or how to feel about the movie works in its favor. Like its two leads, Meet Cute has constant frenetic energy pulsing through it that makes it difficult to nail down. But while it spends its runtime vibrating on such a uniquely high frequency, the film still feels almost bizarrely familiar. Just like its time-traveling characters, I was sure that I had already seen this movie before.
Meet Cute is the kind of film that has all but fallen by the wayside, as the space for mid-budget films between big-budget studio flicks and shoestring indie productions has grown tighter. The world of moviemaking was once less polarized. Now, things can only fall into one of two categories: indie with buzz or franchise with IP appeal.
Part of this is that there was once a place that thrived on these films that landed somewhere in the middle: your local video rental store. Without the presence of a Blockbuster Video—somewhere you could tangibly hunt for something surprising—mid-budget films that land biggish stars end up relegated to streaming, lost in the folds of the digital realm. Meet Cute doesn’t have expensive effects or a scrappy DIY production history, both of which might attract audiences. Instead, this movie has to rely solely on its wacky premise.
What Meet Cute lacks in marketability, however, it makes up for in charm and an ardent desire to say something affecting—even if it takes an unconventional route through space and time to get there.
Forging this path through the cosmos is Sheila (Cuoco), a seemingly optimistic go-getter. She’s got such a firm grasp of control over everything around her that she’s managed to finagle her seventh date in a row with her dream guy, Gary (Davidson). But Sheila and Gary haven’t been on a consecutive week of dates together because they’re a good match. It’s because Sheila has been venturing 24 hours into the past every time their date ends, in order to relive each adorable moment.
Night after night, the same series of events take place. Sheila picks up Gary at a bar, where he’s surprised to learn that she already knows his drink order. After some light conversation, Sheila confesses to being a time traveler. Gary thinks it’s a joke, a way to endear herself to him and break the ice. After all, Sheila claims that her “time machine” is a tanning bed in the back room of her go-to nail salon. But by the time they’ve had a lovely dinner at the same neon-hued Indian restaurant, gone thrifting and dancing, and ended up on the Staten Island ferry, Sheila reasserts that she can jump through time, even if Gary doesn’t buy it.
Gary, who now believes he’s in over his head after spending an entire night with a beautiful blonde with a couple of screws loose, politely ends the date. “That’s OK, I’ll see you tomorrow!” Sheila says, waving him off. She then heads back to the nail salon, climbs into the tanning bed, and does it all over again.
But after racking up more dates together, the magic of their meet-cute is starting to wear off for Sheila. Gary says all the things she knew he would, and introducing herself to him time and time again only underlines his difficulty with opening up. Desperate to recapture the high of their first three-dozen dates, Sheila attempts to slowly find and fix Gary’s traumas. It’s through this plan that we realize that Sheila may not be the mover and shaker she appears to be. Her desire to journey to the past is actually propelled by something much darker than a crush.
One might think that watching Cuoco and Davidson do the sexy New York version of Groundhog Day and over again would become monotonous. Meet Cute would certainly feel much more redundant, though, if it weren’t buoyed by such a magnetic pairing of stars. Cuoco, who is on a hot streak following two fantastic seasons of The Flight Attendant (and some legendary Smirnoff ads), is the perfect choice for a character like Sheila. She’s peppy to the point of mania, but Cuoco understands how to dial Sheila back when she verges on annoying.
Cuoco’s liveliness finds a soft landing in Pete Davidson’s endless well of charm. As Gary, Davidson exudes the kind of nuanced, naive modesty that made him so likable in his breakout years but has faded from public memory now that he’s become a tabloid fixture. But he’s not just getting by on charisma: Davidson is a legitimately fantastic actor, who is so natural in front of the camera that he makes every scene feel like the first and only take. Meet Cute is finally a proper vehicle for those of us who have battled the false narrative that Davidson is neither personable nor sexy. Here, it’s easy to see why Sheila can’t stop going back to him for one more first date.
If only the logistics of the time travel hook were as thoughtful as the film’s casting. There are several points where new caveats and explanations for how things happen are sprinkled into the script, conveyed via a mound of dialogue. It would be a clever trick if these moments were meant to get viewers to gloss over plot holes. But they don’t work as well when the film’s entire story hinges on understanding how Sheila can get from one point in time to another. As far as time-travel movies go, Meet Cute is less About Time and more The Lake House. And that’s not a compliment.
Though the script muddies its sci-fi explainers, it’s got plenty of resonant emotional beats. Once the movie gets deeper into the layers of Sheila’s motivation and Gary’s complicated past, it reveals a pertinent underside to their connection that almost every viewer can relate to. Gary and Sheila share an inability to handle the messes that they’ve made for themselves, and watching them help each other put the pieces of their lives back together makes for a surprisingly moving watch. Especially for a movie that’s essentially Hot Tub Time Machine 3: Tanning Bed Takeover.
Seeing Cuoco and Davidson act opposite one another in a strange, mid-budget sci-fi/rom com like this made me nostalgic for an era that has long been lost to technology. Meet Cute would fit snugly on the rack of $2 rentals, amidst any one of Brittany Murphy’s many gems or Wong Kar-wai’s late-period, vibey romance My Blueberry Nights. Sure, the movie may essentially be the 90-minute version of “I Could Fix Him” with some time travel thrown in, but that kind of wackadoo, swing-for-the-fences ambition is something you just don’t get much of anymore. Like time travel, Meet Cute is something you have to see to believe. Whether or not you’ll be glad you did, you won’t know until you’re on the other side.
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