You know you’re getting up there when you’re watching a movie that reminds you of When Harry Met Sally, and you realize that the new Harry is the son of Sally — which is to say, one of its two leads in the new rom-com Plus One is Meg Ryan’s son, Jack Quaid.
His costar in Plus One, about platonic friends who gradually acknowledge their mutual attraction, is Maya Erskine, and with apologies to young Mr. Quaid, she singlehandedly elevates this predictable movie into something pleasantly watchable.
Erskine is the star of a Hulu show called PEN15, in which she plays a teen version of a grown woman remembering her middle school past. So it probably helps that she’s petite. As we see in Plus One, her size helps make her an interesting screen presence. Erskine is a diminutive woman with an incongruously big voice — deep and agile and expressive.
She also has a natural gift for comedy, and all of these come into play in the opening scene, wherein Erskine, as a recently dumped young woman named Alice, stumbles drunkenly across a wedding reception dance floor, singing and dancing like nobody’s watching, except everybody’s watching. So her best friend Ben (Quaid) chivalrously guides her back to her room, where she purges excess alcohol.
Jilted Alice regards with anguish the forced march of wedding receptions she’s soon obligated to attend. Also running this gauntlet is bestie Ben, single for different reasons — he’s gun-shy because of the example of his divorce-prone dad (Ed Begley Jr.) and also because he has a tendency to be pathologically selective.
So they agree to be each other’s dates, and off they go, Alice and Ben, in a kind of When Harry Met Sally and Then They Became Wedding Crashers. Enterprising Alice initially agrees to function as Ben’s “wingman,” sizing up single women at receptions, helping Ben benefit from “chance” meetings.
It’s all prologue, of course, to the moment with the two friends and confederates acknowledge a growing attraction, act on it, and then — also mandated by formula — live in the uncomfortable space that encompasses friendship, friendship with benefits, and perhaps love.
Plus One moves briskly through its paces, observing and embellishing the rom com-standards. There is a recurring structural device that works very well — each wedding stop is marked off and initiated by a best man/maid of honor toast, giving the movie a nice episodic rhythm.
Problems arise, though, when Plus One begins to shift its focus to Ben. The script looks for ways to complicate the budding romance, and settles on picky Ben’s mystifyingly cold feet. Quaid is fine in the early scenes, with a Paul Rudd-ish gift for verbal dexterity and banter, but he has a hard time making his character’s second thoughts come off as anything but narcissistic dithering. Friends and family members wonder what he doesn’t like about Alice, and so do we.
On the other hand, developments give Erskine a chance to play hurt and wounded, and she handles this as beautifully as she does the light comedy. She’s the plus in Plus One.
Plus One. Directed by Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer. With Maya Erskine, Jack Quaid, Ed Begley Jr., Perry Reeves, and Beck Bennett. Distributed by RLJE Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 39 mins.
Parents’ guide: Not rated.