Netflix has cornered the market on two unique genres – the docu-series (in which literally everyone will leave you wondering if the main character killed someone or tried to kill someone, even if the murder wasn’t the subject of the show) and the romantic comedy. Rom-coms, similar to horror, have a weird stigma surrounding their reputation. But when done right, they can be exceptionally written and thematically powerful. But the Netflix brand of these movies often doesn’t clear that bar. Now, Love Wedding Repeat is the service’s latest addition to its long line of films about attractive people somehow not being able to hook up.
But if the title gives the suggestion that this is some subversive piece about it’s own genre, what plays out is actually the opposite. Director Dean Craig takes the trope of “will this guy muster the courage to ask out this girl” to the nth degree. The film stars Sam Claflin as Jack, an affable everyman with terrible luck. He’s preparing for the wedding of his sister, Hayley (Eleanor Tomlinson), and the two bond over the absence of their deceased parents. Meanwhile, Hayley’s friend, and Jack’s crush, Dina (Olivia Munn) makes an unexpected arrival at the wedding. This prompts Jack to make up for a missed opportunity to date Dina several years ago. But while courting Dina, he also has to keep his sister’s wedding, including her own skeletons from the past, in order.
However, it’s even more complicated than that. Jack has to also manage an unreliable Maid of Honor, an ex-flame and her jealous boyfriend, and a convoluted scheme that should land Jack and Haley in jail. Much of this seems like window dressing to distract from the lack of depth to the core conflict (more on that later). But for what it’s worth, this cast of characters and their dynamics are entertaining. The standout is Bryan (Joel Fry), Haley’s Maid of Honor, or “Man of Honor” as he’d like to be called. The character is a buffoon who waits until the wedding day to get a haircut, then makes his grand return with somehow even more hair on his head. But Fry’s performance is appropriately bizarre without ever going over the top. His best moment comes when he has to deliver the Maid of Honor speech with compromised motor functions.
The remaining cast of goofballs is serviceable, including one guest in a suit so bad that he’s consistently mistaken for the wedding reception’s entertainment. But the antics never get too hysterical, which is a shame because it feels like the film is holding back. This is partially confirmed in an outtake involving Jack and another character that is so ridiculous and hilarious (which actually provides pay-off to a running gag) that you wonder why it wasn’t actually in the movie. The film drops the ball at bringing energy to the story, settling for gags that potentially double, but not home runs.
The lack of laughs leaves the story to be further scrutinized. The script is in some ways an “idiot plot”, with certain events happening only because the characters lack rudimentary awareness. The story moves forward via convoluted contrivances, yet the narration keeps telling us “THIS IS CHANCE! SEE HOW RANDOM THE UNIVERSE IS?” ad nauseam. In addition, the plot makes no sense in a world of cell phones and social media. We’re meant to believe that Dina is the one that got away for Jack – but she’s his sister’s friend. Couldn’t he have… called her?
There’s a bit of dialogue that explains Jack still feels the trauma from the death of his parents – he knows how easy it is to lose someone you love. But is that why he stammers and can’t ask out Dina? This hasn’t hurt him in his other relationships, so what’s different about this one? This question is hand-waved by Jack, exclaiming rom-com cliches like “we had a connection” and “I never felt anything like that”, but this is mostly said, not shown. While Clafin and Munn are solid individually, they don’t seem to have much chemistry with each other. But this may be due to the would-be couple just not having enough screentime to build empathy. So we have to be told about this great connection they have, but it is not felt.
Dina’s story seems to have more layers to it than the role she’s allotted. She has an intriguing career, while also recovering from a family tragedy, but these facts are treated as tidbits rather than character traits to explore. Instead of being a fully fleshed-out character, she’s merely a goal for a less interesting individual. But at this point, it seems to be a pattern for many of the Netflix rom-com to feel like they’re doing just enough, without ever going the extra mile. Hell, they don’t even take the lighting seriously; the film’s look is the service’s patented sitcom-brand of over-exposed lighting and flat imagery. Netflix, if you’re going to put movie theaters out of business, don’t put cinematography out along with it.
Love Wedding Repeat is a film you’ll only want to experience once, and even then it will likely not satisfy many beyond devotees of the genre. To be fair, the film ends on a great note. Not only is there a brilliant quote about the serendipitous nature of history and life, but the last scene features the best joke of the movie. It’s just frustrating that it takes that long for the film to hit it’s stride. It is expected that the best part of a wedding is the reception, but we don’t expect a movie to take similarly as long for the fun to begin.