Here in June, our 2019 calendar has reached the peak of the annual wedding season. Some love it. Some hate it. Some are even participating. No matter where you sit, it’s a roller coaster for all ages. The traditions of nuptials and romantic comedies are keenly and boisterously observed and challenged by Plus One, the feature film debut of the writing and directing team of Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer and winner of the Audience Award at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Every moment to cringe and every moment to cherish swirl together with very appealing zest. Plus One plays locally in the Chicagoland area exclusively at the AMC Barrington 24 location starting on June 14th.
LESSON #1: THE RANGE OF TOAST SPEECHES AT WEDDINGS — Boy, does Plus One absolutely nail something right from the start. From short-and-sweet to the long-winded, how weird are your traditional best man/maid of honor “raise a glass” salutes when you really think about them? One’s heartfelt truth is another’s rambling mess with whole bunch of notes or flubs in between. How many are honestly successful at achieving and earning their moment? Is it safe to say there are more bad ones than good ones? The old adage from Wedding Crashers comes to mind about saying these from the heart without a script. Be funny, be easy, and be quick.
Plus One hilariously uses those awkward and poetic highlights of attention as chapter card bookmarks for each exhausting wedding adventure of Alice and Ben, played by Maya Erskine of Wine Country and Jack Quaid of Logan Lucky. These two close friends from college have reached the age where a fleet of their friends, acquaintances, siblings and even one of their own parents are tying the knot all in one summer. Neither of them are committed in a current relationship and are staring down a summer of ten combined weddings between them. Enjoying each other’s inebriated and snarky company, Ben and Alice make a deal to be each other’s guest, closer, and wingman for all the weddings scheduled between them.
Watching how they carry themselves through these parades of formal and informal gatherings, their character traits come through. Ben gets called the “spaz” by Alice, but is really the shoulder for her tears getting over a recent break-up. He’s been perpetually single and overly picky especially when inspired by people celebrating their miracles of marital bliss. Meanwhile, Alice is the hot mess drunk who takes longer to open up to people. No matter the crowd or scene, the two truly get each other and always find a way to have a good time.
LESSON #2: WEDDINGS BRING DIFFERENT EMOTIONS — For as much combined enthusiasm, romance, and celebration that is present at a wedding, the creeping notions of depression, loneliness, and jealousy can follow those who aren’t satisfied with their current state of life and love. Everyone may look smiley and happy for the sake of the occasion, but slow things down or inject a little liquid courage into the situation and you start to see where people’s true feelings reside at any given wedding. The divergences stand out, most especially with Alice and Ben.
Their characters may crash and burn often, but the performers and movie flow through one fanciful and expansive wedding setting after another. For an independent film, there is a wowing wealth of rich production value to the variety of locations and settings utilize or created for these mock weddings of regalia. Huge compliments go to the team (all feature first-timers) of production designer Francesa Palombo, art director Travis Witkowski, and set decorator Katherine Reed for their crisp work. Cinematographer Guy Godfree (Maudie) soaks up the festive lights or partytime glows with clarity and attention. Beyond our leads in these celebratory sequences, the background is filled with a spot-on cast ensemble of various venue staff, wedding guests, relatives, brides, grooms, and those aforementioned speechifying best men and maids of honor all playing a range of stately and sloppy. A few familiar faces like Beck Bennet, Jon Bass, Finn Wittrock, and Rosalind Chao pop up and score little moments.
Even with a big guest list, the two leads are the revelations. Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid start these characters out as insufferable whiners with sophomoric behaviors. The smoothness behind the alcohol-tinged bite of Plus One is to watch the two operate through softening each of their prickly characters against each other.
LESSON #3: DON’T SCREW UP A GOOD THING WITH YOUR OWN INSECURITIES — While plenty telegraphed, it’s a pleasure to watch the performers develop closeness through shared experiences crafted by Chan and Rhymer’s snug script. Ben and Alice find truths through all the B.S. and learn from mistakes and personal flaws. Their quips and crassness towards each other turn into flirts and disarming charms. Cutdowns become compliments without the backhand and the feels add up. With spunky material, both actors show tremendous comic timing and moldable talent to squeeze the sugar and wring the acid out of these two potential partners.