“Plus One” has a premise so obvious and ripe for a romantic comedy that it’s a surprise that no one’s ever tried it before (“Four Weddings and a Funeral” comes close), but then again you’re relieved that Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer got to it before anyone else because their execution is as sharp as the idea behind it. Set during one momentous year in the life of Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine), the film finds the friends since college awash in wedding invites now that everyone in their orbit seems at that age where they want to settle down, even Ben’s father Chuck (Ed Begley Jr.), who’s going to marry for the second time. Both single, with Alice recently breaking up with a longtime beau, the two make a pact to attend six weddings together (“teaming up to take on the love marathon,” as Alice says) so no prying friends or relatives bother to ask about their relationship status and they’ll have someone to go home with at the end of the night if they don’t wind up scoring there.
Of course, Ben and Alice don’t know all the ways they’re right for one another, something that’s evident to everyone but them from the plutonium-grade sparks that fly between Erskine and Quaid from the second the movie starts, yet Chan and Rhymer brilliantly show how well-aware they are of all the ways they’re wrong for each romantically – and for anyone else, they suspect – to the point that they’re actively self-sabotaging any prospective path to happiness. With the weddings as a reminder of all the couples that have been able to make things work, Ben and Alice can only think about their own failings and after hatching a seemingly foolproof plan to shield themselves from questions, they have left themselves perilously open to the ones they must ask themselves.
Production designer Francesca Palombo deserves special kudos for arranging a panoply of beautiful weddings of various themes and sizes for Ben and Alice to attend, and Chan and Rhymer do well to make Ben and Alice barely notice, either too wrapped up in their neuroses to notice or after Alice proposes cuddling one night since they’re in cramped quarters, too enmeshed in trying to figure out what the other is thinking. Erskine and Quaid not only make for an aesthetically pleasing pair, but one that radiates intelligence as well they trade knowing barbs and genuinely feel as if they’ve known each other forever, making the eventuality that they can barely recognize one another in a romantic light all the more compelling.
One of the film’s producers is Ross Putman, whose name has essentially become a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for romantic comedies in recent years, backing the likes of Sam Boyd’s “In a Relationship” and Kerem Sanga’s “First Girl I Loved” and notably starting the popular Twitter feed @FemScriptIntros, which has called out the often unsophisticated descriptions of female characters he sees in the scripts he reads. Whatever pain he’s had to endure there, he’s put the time in to find and nurture fresh perspectives that have breathed new life into the genre by looking a lot more like the world we live in now. Simply in seeing love take various forms in different cultural contexts as Ben and Alice take in one set of vows after another in “Plus One,” it makes whatever commitment they inevitably make to each other especially satisfying.
“Plus One” opens on June 14th in limited release, including Los Angeles at the Pasadena Playhouse and Monica Film Center and New York at the Village East Cinemas. It is also available on iTunes.