The Perfect Date
Is it a Netflix romantic comedy about fake dating someone if Noah Centineo isn’t in it? I’ll answer that for you: No. I’m not sure what Centineo did for Netflix, but he is arguably the star of the platform right now. His face is everywhere, and his phone is always on when Netflix calls about a male lead with a memorable name. He’s a fine actor and, despite not being asked to do much, he generally gives his character’s enough to make you root for him. But things are different now than with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and even Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. The premise is starting to wear a little thin and the characters are a little worse and harder to like. The real question is, how long can Netflix keep cranking these out? The answer is probably forever.
Based on The Stand-In by Steve Bloom (who also shares a screenwriting credit with Randall Green), the film focuses on Brooks Rattigan. He’s a charismatic high school senior, that looks up to Elon Musk, and is set on attending Yale after graduation. And while he has the grades, he can’t afford the tuition. He works at a sub shop and his dad is a down on his luck former writer. So, Brooks is low on funds and will do anything he can to make the money lest he takes the full ride offered to him by UCONN.
Luckily enough for him, he learns that one of his classmates is in need of some help. The guy’s cousin Celia (Laura Marano) needs an escort to a school dance and her parents are paying. This is where Brooks steps in. They clash, of course, because Celia is a rebel. She makes fun of Brooks and the dance every chance she gets while he’s trying to make the best of an awkward situation and also being a dick. But the main plot point of the film is what happens after the dance. Cash in hand, he decides that the quickest way to meet his goal is to take women on dates for money. Definitely no sex though. He has his best friend, Murph (Odiseas Gerorgiadis), create an app where people can order whatever date they want for any occasion. There’s a nice montage of Brooks as a cowboy, as an art critic, and helping someone get over their first date jitters. But it’s a lot of dishonesty. And per the sappy voiceover that we get at the end, because of it all, Brooks loses sight of why he even wants to go to Yale in the first place. The change in Brooks feels plausible enough but the script doesn’t really do the work to get there.
The Perfect Date isn’t a bad film per se, it’s average. Its themes are clear and everything is good enough to keep you company while you look at your phone. But the decisions made by the characters are so questionable (dare I say, stupid?) that it’s hard to stay invested. Lying is a big part of the story, and while Brooks does the majority, his friends are right there for the assist. So when conflict arises between them that centers the lying, it fails to feel genuine.
I don’t demand perfection from my favorite rom-coms, but I do prefer there be some logic to what is happening. The chemistry is it’s only saving grace but it only shines when the awkwardness of the writing gets out of the way. The film ends with an upbeat song, as these things tend to do, but the final act doesn’t feel upbeat. It feels… fine. There are no standing ovations or loud acclamations about how “it was so good.” A somber “I guess” will do. So, if this is the last of Netflix’s foray into this strange sub-genre of rom-coms then so be it. But if not, let’s hope that Centineo’s phone stays on silent.
I give it 2.5 out of 5 trash cans.