When We First Met movie review: This Netflix film wastes its potential by obsessing over the 'friend zone'
When We First Met decided to pander to the popular but mistaken male notion of unreciprocated feelings and focused on the ‘friend zone’.
Unrequited love is something most people have experienced at some point of time in their lives. But there is something deeply problematic in using the term ‘friend zone’ to describe that situation.
First off, ‘friend zone’ too often puts blame on the person who did not reciprocate romantic feelings. When someone says, ‘he/she friendzoned me’, this implies that the uninterested person did something or metaphorically put someone in some zone. In reality, however, that person didn’t actually do anything. Secondly, the term trivialises friendship. It assumes that friendship has less or no meaning or that it is some sort of barren ‘zone’ which can never develop into romance, whereas the foundation for countless relationships is a strong friendship.
The term ‘friend zone’ undermines the pain and complexity of unrequited love.
With talented actors like Adam DeVine, Alexandra Daddario and Shelley Hennig, director Ari Sandel and writer John Whittington (who also wrote the hilarious The Lego Batman Movie) had a golden opportunity to make a good romantic comedy about unrequited love.
Instead, the Netflix film When We First Met decided to pander to the popular but mistaken male notion of unreciprocated feelings and focused on the ‘friend zone’.
In the film, Noah Ashby (DeVine) has the perfect first night with the girl of his dreams Avery Martin (Daddario). But the night ends with Noah finding out that Avery is interested in friendship instead of a romantic relationship. Three years later, on the day Avery is getting engaged to someone else, Noah discovers a way to travel back through time to the day he first met Avery. And thus begins his quest to attempt to alter that night and win Avery’s heart.
This Groundhog Day-esque premise had a lot of potential for both romance and comedy, mainly because Noah never blames Avery for not being interested in him and instead focuses on self-improvement and changing himself every time he gets an opportunity to travel back through time. When We First Met also ultimately gives the right message about friendship. These are the best parts about the film.
Sadly, the worst part about When We First Met, which overshadows the good parts, is that even as the film tries to approach the issue of dealing with unrequited feelings the right way by highlighting the correct path of self-improvement, it miserably fails to focus on the one thing which is crucial to deal with unrequited love: Honesty.
The most important aspect of any bond is to be on the same page.
Viewers watching the film will wonder why Noah never directly told Avery about his feelings on the same night when he sensed that she just wanted to be friends.
He should have laid all his cards on the table, respectfully accepted the expected rejection and moved on.
In fact, this is what all men should do. Instead, most men are fed misleading advice about how to ‘escape’ the ‘friend zone’ through trickery and manipulation.
And because When We First Met is essentially about the ‘friend zone’ rather than unrequited love, most of what is shown in the movie after the first night sequence is sheer misogyny.
There is a scene in which Noah unintentionally almost flashes himself in front of Avery and her friend Carrie (Hennig). That scene, by the way, is supposed to be funny. In another scene, the movie basically implies that all that a man has to do to have sex with a woman is act like a ‘soft a**hole’. In another one of Noah’s time-travelling adventures, we are told that a woman will decide to be with you, even if she secretly loves someone else, if you leave a profession in music to bag a well-paid white collar corporate job.
Such horrible and highly sexist assumptions are the fatal flaws which destroy a film which otherwise could have been a great movie, because When We First Met has some genuinely good aspects.
DeVine, for example, does all he can with his acting skills to try to save the film by bringing his own original brand of quirky humour and hilarious expressions. There are times when one genuinely feels bad for Noah, solely because of DeVine’s quick reactions to events taking place around him in the scene.
Daddario and Hennig also try to elevate their hollow characters with skillful acting. But we never get to see what the women characters in the movie are actually like because we are only shown how the women react to Noah’s shenanigans, as if they exist in the movie solely for that purpose.
The main flaw in When We First Met, therefore, lies in bad writing and direction. The actors are not even given good enough jokes or gags in the movie to make it funny. For example, the ‘humour’ in the one of the scenes in the movie revolved around the words ‘doggy style’.
When We First Met is one of those movies which is especially disappointing because it wastes an opportunity — brought together by great actors and a quirky, interesting premise — to tell a funny and original story about unrequited love by instead obsessing over the ‘friend zone’.
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