Meet Cute, a squeaky Peacock romantic comedy starring Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson, dives right into a classic story: a boy meets a girl in a New York bar — or, more specifically, a girl stares intently at a boy from one end of the bar, asks him for a drink and seems to know what he’s going to say before he says it. Perky Cuoco’s Sheila and shy, slightly disheveled Gary of Davidson exchange rhythmic banter. A few sarcastic and overly mannered barbs later, they set off for a solid first date in New York: dinner at the East Village’s Panna II Garden, dessert in an ice cream truck, ferry ride, thrift store, beers at the polka bar, night walk along the East River.
Along the way, Sheila reveals the catch: their cute encounter seems to be slipping through the air because they’ve practiced multiple times. She’s a time traveler 24 hours into the future, resurrecting the magic of their first date over and over again. Sheila wraps each info dump like a seductive role-playing game about time travel, a bit so that Gary unwittingly backs away, which quickly becomes stale. As hard as Cuoco and Davidson try chemistry — and Cuoco, at least, seems to be really trying — this umpteenth spin on the Groundhog Day time loop is more boring than endearing, cute than actually cute, a downward spiral of poorly executed neuroticism that degenerates into an indefensible borderline end. Palm Springs, it is not.
It doesn’t help that the first third of the film, written by Noga Pnueli and directed by Alex Lehmann, does little to alter the scope or stakes of Sheila and Gary’s repetitive tryst. Sheila, who we learn was suicidal until she found the time machine (telegraphed by smudged eyeliner, of course, and her proclamation that she wants to kill herself) goes back in time via a tanning bed at a nondescript nail salon run by tongue-in-cheek manicurist June (Deborah S Craig.) She runs over with a car. She goes to Gary’s bar in the same yellow gingham dress, differentiated by slight hairstyle changes. (This is clearly a Covid-era film, with few costume changes, two main interior sets, and many scenes taking place outside.) She tries in vain to explain the loop to Gary without scaring him, which is the natural reaction to someone who is always on the run. going back on a first date because “you’re the only person who makes me really happy”.
Cuoco and Davidson, delivering his best aw-shucks, aren’t bad actors; they build up a small reservoir of affection during the first half of this 80-minute film. But that’s marred in the second half by Sheila’s increasingly irredeemable behavior and the film’s handling of her mental health crisis. Specifically, Sheila, whom Cuoco overplays with wide-eyed manic energy, begins to play with Gary’s childhood to optimize his adult self. Worse still, as Gary begins to subconsciously understand Sheila’s desperate and futile attempts to freeze time, Meet Cute doubles down on his moves towards suicide; I watched with gritted teeth as the final act presented romantic comedy stakes like a reconciliation with Gary or a jump off a bridge. It’s insensitive at best, a cheap attempt at character depth.
There’s an intriguing thread somewhere here about unrequited obsession that has more to do with insecurity than actual love, about how depression can lead to intense, clingy fixations that are hard to let go. It’s not a movie smart enough to do that, or as edgy as it seems to think. It’s skillfully directed – New York feels like New York, gritty and endlessly open. The lines must have worked on the page and sometimes echo true flirtation. But a well-timed relationship is no substitute for charm, nor is it enough to justify that empty loop.