RELEASE DATE: 4/12/2019
DIRECTOR: Chris Nelson
After subbing for a friend on a date, high school senior Brooks Rattigan starts up a successful business as a stand-in date.
Fresh off his Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award, burgeoning star Noah Centineo is back with his third Netflix movie in less than a year, The Perfect Date. He stole your hearts as Peter Kavinsky in last year’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and he’s out to do it again. As a star vehicle for Centineo, The Perfect Date is fine. But the movie is at its best when he takes a step back to let the other actors shine. Similar to its lead character, The Perfect Date is a sporadically entertaining movie that gets by on good will more than anything else.
Brooks Rattigan (Centineo) is the typical romcom lead: handsome, gets along with everybody, etc. In other words, he’s a bit of a cliché. The movie amplifies this by deploying the classic teen trope of the college application essay—as if a teenager needs another reason to obsess over themselves. Those letters are like a blacklight for your soul. And, in the case, the essay reveals that Brooks is…a mostly bland guy. But that blandness becomes his best trait when he stands in on a pity date with Celia (Laura Marano). Before you can say “acceptance letter,” Brooks and his best friend, Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis), have started an app that allows people to book Brooks for non-sexual dates. He’s like an emotional support boyfriend for people who need someone to listen to them.
The Perfect Date is as genial as it is predictable. There is nothing here that is truly surprising, which is fine. The movie isn’t trying to break new ground. It just wants you to feel good about being yourself. It’s a simple, noble sentiment, and the film’s sincerity carries it through its more contrived parts. That’s good because Perfect Date is built on contrivance. That initial date with Celia? Her parents are paying for someone to take her out for no real reason. They want her to be social, to go have a good time. But she knows they’re paying Noah, which begs the question: why didn’t they just pay her to go out? Of course, that would sink the whole premise of the movie. But still, it’s something that rings false in the moment, but rebounds when we see Brooks on other dates.
The Perfect Date is just like a date with Brooks. You know exactly what you’re going to get before it starts, and the movie aims to please. It’s pleasant without being challenging, like a road with speed bumps spaced out enough to maneuver around them. The movie flirts with some harmless tension by giving Brooks and Celia crushes on other people. Brooks likes Shelby (Riverdale‘s Camila Mendes), the popular girl at the richest school in town. Celia like the mysterious (re: bland) guy who makes art under the moniker Trashbug. As with most movies like Perfect Date, the only surprising thing about the romantic drama is that pop-culture savvy kids like Brooks and Celia can’t see through it as they see through everything else.
Something I keep thinking about is how Centineo and Marano have strong platonic chemistry. As romantic prospects, I didn’t care much is Brooks and Celia got together. Surprisingly, I did find myself hoping they would just stay friends. I’m not sure if it’s the characters or the performances, but Brooks and Celia are much more interesting as friends than romantic partners. The Perfect Date lacks conflict, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the movie only really missteps when it tries to force problems.
The movie is based on Steve Bloom’s book The Stand-In. Bloom is credited with the film’s screenplay, along with Randall Green. It’s directed by Chris Nelson, who shoots everything in a no-frills manner. No-frills is the best way to describe Perfect Date. It’s comfort food cinema. As part of Netflix’s growing Noah Centineo catalog, Perfect Date feels like the product of algorithmic filmmaking. You’ll have a good time if you go into it with nothing more than the expectation of a good, stress-free time.
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