In the world of romantic comedies, chemistry is everything. You can have the most original plot and stellar writing, but it doesn’t mean a thing if the audience isn’t buying what you’re selling. Plus One may be a story we’ve seen a hundred times over, but it succeeds because its two lead characters are charming, engaging, and great with each other. That’s it. That’s all you need.
Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine) are in a tough spot. The old friends from college have a seemingly endless series of weddings to attend, an unfathomably brutal prospect considering that both of them are recently single. Since there are few things worse than attending a wedding solo, they resolve to band together and serve as each other’s date for the entire wedding season.
You can all see where this is going, right?
Of course, two attractive, and by all accounts compatible, friends who keep getting put in the same room (and yes, the “platonic friends forced to share one bed” trope does turn up on more than one occasion) and have to endure inherently romantic situations are not destined to stay platonic for long. (And for that matter, it seems impossible that anyone could stay single after the series of tastefully elegant and exotic destination weddings their friends and family throw.)
But surprise, surprise, trouble rears its ugly head, through one fundamental incompatibility. Alice is the type of person who follows her heart: she does what feels right and when she falls in love with someone, she falls hard. Ben, on the other hand, has a whole host of commitment issues. His parents’ divorce and his father’s subsequent marriages have left him doubting his ability to determine if his feelings are love. Or if they are, if they’re the type of love that lasts. In his mind, it’s better to make no decision than to make the wrong decision, leaving him in a paralyzed state, unable to commit to anyone even when he cares for them deeply.
As tragically romantic as this all undoubtedly is, however, it’s hardly breaking new ground in the genre. What makes Plus One more than just your run-of-the-mill rom-com are two things: the lead performances and the dialogue.
We’ve already established that Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine have great chemistry with one another. But it’s more than just that. They make sense throughout the entire film and come across as believable at every stage in their relationship, whether they’re just old friends from college who know each other backwards and forwards, flirty co-conspirators who serve as each other’s wingmen, or lovers tentatively trying to ascertain exactly what their relationship is. They have a relaxed, easy banter, which immediately endears them to the audience. We like them because they feel like a slightly more witty version of people we know in real life. They’re the type of character that every rom-com aims for, but so rarely executes well.
That brings us to the dialogue. Funny, natural exchanges don’t grow on trees, but writing/directing team Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer do an excellent job of grounding in reality so much of what is said and done in the film. Not only do the lead characters’ interactions feel genuine, but every throwaway line and casual aside reflects a sort of organic conversational style. It’s a sign of writers who understand how people really talk, and the effect it has on the overall quality of the film is immense. (For the record, Alice’s comment to a fellow wedding guest that he is hot enough to do well on Survivor but not to win is the stuff of genius.)
Plus One may not go down in the history books as one of the most profound additions to cinema, but it does introduce Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine as rising stars with legitimate comedic chips and, more importantly than anything else, they’re both incredibly charming. By all the metrics we use to judge a rom-com, it’s difficult to see this as anything other than a success.