I was invited to six weddings this year. Last year, I attended two. The year before that, five. There comes a point where it feels like everyone you know is either getting engaged, married, or starting a family. Don’t get me wrong — weddings can be fun, especially if you have someone to stave off the inevitable awkwardness of sitting at the leftover table, or an in-law’s deeply oversharing speech. But they can also be incredibly stressful, financially and emotionally.
That’s the premise of Plus One, a new romantic comedy directed and co-written by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer, and starring Maya Erskine (PEN15) and Jack Quaid (son of rom-com queen Meg Ryan). Faced with the prospect of attending 10 weddings between them, longtime college friends Alice (Erskine) and Ben (Quaid) make a pact to be each other’s plus ones. Fresh out of a long-term relationship, Alice needs the emotional support, while Ben is perpetually single, so hell-bent on finding “the one” that he ends any attachment that doesn’t feel like it has long-term potential. And then, around wedding number five, the inevitable happens: Ben and Alice realize that the person they’re looking for might just be their plus one. But can they make it work?
The idea of falling in love with the person you attend weddings with is an old one. When Harry Met Sally operated along similar lines — remember the memorable confrontation during Jess and Marie’s reception? But if Plus One follows a traditional rom-com arc, it’s one that’s distinctly modern in tone.
The film won the Narrative Audience Award at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why. Erskine and Quaid share crackling, mischievous chemistry. From the very first scene, which shows Ben practicing a best man’s speech in front of an increasingly bored and glib Alice, the two feel like partners in a crime against love and happiness They’re both frank to the point of rudeness, the kind of people who will get blackout drunk during the reception, flail-dance to the dessert table, and then pass out. They wear their basest, crassest emotions on their sleeves, but try very hard to suppress any real vulnerability. And because of that, it’s hard not to root for them once they do start to open up — even after they have sex in a cemetery.
Unlike most rom-coms, in which the two best friends realize they’re meant for each other at the very end of the film, Ben and Alice have their epiphany about halfway in, allowing us to watch them fall in love, date, and grapple with their emotional baggage, before the Big Speech conclusion. It’s a more realistic take on the trope, which usually leaves us on a high — with no guarantee that things will work out just a few months later.
Plus, it’s refreshing to see a film tackle the very real issues that millennials face when attending weddings in an honest and unvarnished way. Do you have to bring a gift if you’ve traveled for the event? Do you pull from the registry or hand-deliver a creative and personal memento? Erskine models an enviable array of outfits for just about every dress code, a useful detail if, like me, you’re still trying to figure out the sweet spot for a daytime semi-formal summer wedding.
For all the laughs involved — and there are many — the strength of this film is the way it tackles loneliness in wedding guests. One scene, in which the single older brother of a groom (Jon Bass) confesses to Ben that he hasn’t had sex in six years, before genuinely asking if he thinks they’ll ever find love, is particularly poignant. Weddings are the day where everything goes right — couples are declaring their love and commitment to each other in front of their families and friends. You don’t see the fights, the doubts, the crises of faith or the bad days. There’s no place for those messy emotions during a reception, and that kind of overwhelming outward-facing happiness can be a lot to take for people who feel like it’ll never happen for them. Still — someone, please eliminate the tired trope that children of divorce cannot find love because their parents fucked them up. It feels like a leftover hangup from the mid-’60s, that still somehow manages to weedle its way into almost every rom-com today.
Surprisingly, the most endearing part of the film are the weddings themselves. Each one begins with a snippet of a best man or maid of honor speech, each more cringe-worthy than the next, but other than that, they’re all different, from a gay wedding that ends with a casual party on a rooftop bar, to the kind of frou frou affair one flies to Hawaii to attend. But there’s something so palpably earnest about each one of these couples as they embark on this scary journey. You want them to be happy — or fall flat on their face. Either one, really.