When We First Met is a lot better at the “rom” than it is the “com.” Though it borrows heavily from Groundhog’s Day, Back to the Future, Just Friends, and even About Time, this time travel war on the friend zone has a handful of good ideas of its own.
Directed by Ari Sandel and released as a Netflix original film, When We First Met is set in the years between 2014 and 2017. It stars Adam DeVine as Noah, a mild-mannered piano bar entertainer who meets the girl of his dreams (Avery, played by Alexandra Daddario) at a Halloween party, only to be “friend zoned” almost immediately.
Years later, in 2017, Noah is heartbroken to find Avery hopelessly engaged to the man of her dreams (Ethan, played by Robbie Amell). A despondent Noah haphazardly stumbles upon a method of time-travel directly linked to his first meeting with Avery and attempts to make things different, once and for all.
When We First Met asks a simple question: can otherwise well-meaning dudes avoid the friend zone? Noah indeed attempts to reshape his personality in myriad ways, heartening advice from his best friend (Max, played by Andrew Bachelor or “King Bach”) and Avery’s best friend (Carrie, played by Shelley Hennig). They each give him ideas on how to woo Avery from the magnetic clutches of Ethan, and the film goes back and forth between the past and present, hence the similarities to About Time, a far more interesting film ultimately.
You’d think the film’s problems would mostly stem from its message—watching a “nice guy” go to extraordinarily mean-spirited and tone-deaf methods to capitalize on a woman portrayed with little agency does become a chore, but at least the film manages to avoid some predictable paths. Instead, most of the problems in When We First Met stem from its lack of entertaining comedy. It’s certainly alarming to realize that its only real laughs come from slapstick loaded with the catharsis of seeing Noah’s creepy ways getting upended.
Part of the problem does lie in DeVine himself, who is relied on too heavily by the script and is present in essentially every scene. It’s a shame because his goofy charm is endearing enough for a role like this, but the jokes are overly contingent on his specific brand of comedic timing and there aren’t enough characters in the movie for him to jab with in the first place. It’s especially odd to see former Vine star King Bach in such a straightforward role instead of providing some much-needed comic relief to take the pressure off DeVine. Daddario is in many scenes, of course, but her character is far too reactionary to leave much of an impression (same goes for Amell).
Once you get past the movie’s first and second act, which amounts to a handful of obvious joke-filled set pieces the audience will see coming too soon to care about, you do end up with a solid 40 minutes or so of something resembling a heart. This is a movie about what it means to be “right” for another person, and to the film’s credit, none of its “back to the future” scenarios miss a poignant opportunity to teach Noah (and many men watching this) something useful, informing a genuinely sweet ending that deserves a better movie.