It's a tried-and-tested romantic comedy formula: boy meets girl; boy and girl become friends; boy and girl realize they might be more than friends; boy and girl live happily every after.
But what if you never get past the friends stage? What if, instead of living happily after, you're relegated to the sidelines as you watch the girl of your dreams live out that classic ending with someone else? That's the premise of When We First Met, the upcoming Netflix movie starring Adam Devine and Alexandra Daddario. Directed by Ari Sandel, the film, which will be available to stream on February 9, follows the adventures of Noah (Devine) as he goes back in time to his first meeting with now-best friend Avery (Daddario), in an attempt to figure out where he went wrong. The goal? Find that perfect move that will ensure he ends up with Avery. And without giving it away, let's just say nothing quite goes according to plan.
As Avery, Daddario is a perfect mix of old-school rom-com heroine, with a modern twist. She's no lost soul waiting for a man to sweep her off her feet, or a career-driven harridan. She's a successful woman who knows what she wants from life and from a partner. That self-awareness and confidence is what's often been lacking in a genre that stagnated in recent years. Noah can try all he wants to exit the friend zone; ultimately, Avery is the one calling the shots.
Still, the film's trailer, released on January 29, elicited some criticism online, mainly because of the questions it raises about consent and relationships in a time when Hollywood, and society more broadly, is grappling with issues of sexual harassment and assault. Does the trope of a guy refusing to accept that the girl he desires doesn't have romantic feelings for him, and doing everything in his power to alter that fate, still work today?
In a phone interview, we asked Daddario for her thoughts on the issue, why rom-coms have gotten such a bad reputation as of late, and whether she believes in soulmates.
Refinery29: What initially drew you to this movie?
Alexandra Daddario: "It was a combination of a few things. First of all, I love Adam Devine — I’m a huge Workaholics fan, and I think he’s fantastic. I also really liked the script, and I was a big fan of the director's, [Ari Sandel], previous movie, The Duff. I thought he took a movie that could have been a straightforward teen comedy, and made it very unique."
And When We First Met is kind of a unique spin on the rom-com.
"'Rom-com' has sort of become a dirty word, but I love rom-coms. In this movie, we wanted to make the characters genuine, and likable, but it’s our take on Groundhog Day. Everyone has someone that they’ve met, or had a situation where they look back and ask, ‘What would have happened differently if I had done something differently?’ And this plays on that idea, and it plays on the idea of fate. Would the future even be what you wanted it to be? Adam Devine’s character, Noah, goes back in time over and over to try and perfect his day of meeting me, in order to end up with me, and you see the results of the behaviors on each day that he goes back and tries to make it right."
Which one of the many outcomes was your favorite?
"There’s an outcome where he knows everything about me and my roommate, but it turns out that we have no idea who he is because he changes the past so much that we end up thinking that he’s a stalker. It's such a huge reaction, and Adam’s character has no idea what’s going on. Those scenes were really fun to shoot; it’s just us freaking out at poor Noah."
If there was one rom-com you wish you could remake and star in, what would it be?
"When Harry Met Sally. I love that movie! I wouldn’t be able to do what Meg Ryan did, but I just love the idea that as human beings we’re so imperfect, we’re so damaged, that something is right front of our eyes and we refuse to see it. I love the idea that at the end of the day you end up with who you’re supposed to be with, and sometimes the road is longer to get there, because we’re a little bit broken. It’s a beautiful story and so charming."
Why do you think rom-coms have gotten such a bad reputation?
"I think that we made too many bad rom-coms. We took rom-coms and changed them from what they were, a really great love story told with a comedic twist, which is what life is to me — there’s a lot of comedy in life if you look around, and there’s a lot of love in life. We took that genre and we gave it a name, and we made a lot of bad rom-coms that didn’t sell. And I think that happens a lot in the film business. For example, [when] they said, ‘ Oh, you can’t sell female-oriented superhero movies.' And that was because they made two very high-profile female-oriented superhero movies that didn’t do well, but obviously you see now that’s not true, with the success of Wonder Woman. Or, look at Scarlett Johansson and her box-office pull. It’s not about rom-coms per se, it’s about making movies that people like, and that people want to watch. I think if we get back to telling stories authentically, that can change the genre."
I don’t know if you’ve been following the reactions to the trailer, but some people online were concerned that the idea of a guy trying to make a girl like him doesn’t quite fly as well in a post #MeToo environment as perhaps it once did. Do you think watching the film will change their minds?
"I appreciate people’s opinions, but look — guys always try to get girls to like them. And girls try to get guys to like them. And when you see the movies, he’s not doing it in a creepy way. He’s in love with her! He thinks that they had a magical night and that he just waited too long to tell her how he felt, so I think it’s a bit of an overreaction. It’s just a love story, and there’s nothing creepy about what he’s doing. He’s not trying to force her."
What’s it been like to be in the middle of this major industry-wide reckoning as you’re kind of coming up in your career?
"I’m very happy that this is happening. There are things that I’ve been frustrated with all throughout my 20s, and I think that I didn’t feel the power to speak up before, and there’s something that made me feel like I couldn’t stand up for myself. I’ve noticed in the last year that I feel better, and that people have my back. It’s given me the power to be more confident, and not be as fearful in my choices. I know that people are supporting me, and that there are jobs for me in the future, and there are people looking out for me.
"It’s also very frustrating, There’s a lot of anger amongst women, when you really get in touch with how you feel, you’re angry about the way you’ve been treated. You’re angry for the lack of opportunity. You get in touch with your anger in a healthy way and I think that’s a good thing. There’s a way to bond together with men, and have everyone look at the situation and say: ‘Ok, this is the problem, how do we fix it.’ [We need to] focus our frustrations into a healthy movement, and I think that’s what we’re doing."
When We First Met kind of buys into the idea of a soulmate — is that something that you believe in?
"Do I think there’s one soulmate out there for everyone? I don’t. I think there are multiple people you would click with on that kind of a level, it’s just a question of finding them. But I do believe in soulmates — I just don’t think there’s only one. But I haven’t been in love in a long time, so I’m a bit cynical."
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