“When We First Met” is one of those rare films that can cause someone to completely lose faith in humanity. It is a picture of such banality, such tone deafness, such lack of purpose, originality or reason to exist, that it truly baffles the mind. Adam Devine (“Pitch Perfect”) stars as Noah, a sad man who spends the entire film attempting to “Groundhog Day” his way into bed with a girl. The girl in question is the supremely bland Avery, played by Alexandria Daddario (“Baywatch”). Avery’s best friend Carrie (Shelley Henig, “Ouija”) also factors into the equation in a way in which anyone who has ever seen a movie will be able to predict almost immediately. Easily the most vapid feature released so far this year, “When We First Met” joins Netflix’s lineup of original movies with barely a whimper.
The majority of the film revolves around a clever, if slightly derivative, time travel plot in which Noah uses a magical photo booth to go back in time to try and get Avery to fall in love with him. Outside of the creepy sight of Noah going back in time and using information he knows about Avery in the future to try to get with Avery in the past, time travel love stories have been told many times before, and in general, they’ve been told better. Desmon Hume and Penny from ABC’s “Lost” come to mind, as does the 2013 rom-com “About Time.” There’s almost no chemistry between Noah and Avery, and Avery’s personality is so thinly portrayed that it’s hard to understand what about her is so special that Noah has to travel through time to be with her. The new timelines Noah creates are interesting at first, but the gimmick gets old as the movie progresses, and the semi-interesting premise can’t make up for the uninteresting characters and blandly described universe.
Devine certainly has his moments, but there’s a reason why he hasn’t had break out success as a leading man. He works better as a sidekick, like in “Pitch Perfect” or as part of an ensemble, such as the group in “Workaholics.” Throughout “When We First Met,” Devine struggles to carry the emotional weight that the film is asking of him, and his comedic chops aren’t enough to make up for the emotional hole that is missing. Every good romantic comedy has a solid emotional core at its heart. “When We First Met” completely fails in this regard. Neither the relationship between Noah and Avery nor the relationship between Noah and Carrie is well developed enough to justify the “soul mates/love at first sight” story that the movie is trying to tell.
It’s hard to know whether or not Netflix thought at all about the way this film treats relationships in the context of the current climate surrounding the entertainment industry today, but regardless the subject matter of this film feels poorly timed. “When We First Met” treats Avery as an almost literal object of Noah’s affection. Her own agency and ability to make decisions is questioned by the very premise of the film, that if Noah can just “do it right” he can go back and stop Avery from falling in love with the other man she is eventually going to marry. This isn’t inherently a bad story to tell or one that is automatically disrespectful of both parties, but the script by John Whittington (“The Lego Batman Movie”) and Devine isn’t thought out well enough to tell this story in a three dimensional way.
“When We First Met” has an interesting idea at its core. It’s an idea that’s been done almost to death but is relatable and potentially could have resulted in a good film. Unfortunately, “When We First Met” is not a good film. Far from it, it is a sloppy, messy, slapdash piece of work that more closely resembles the era of direct to DVD than it does the early 2000s feel good rom-coms it is trying to replicate.