If you’ve seen one rom-com, you’ve seen them all, right?
The meet-cute. The BFF’s who don’t recognize their perfect for each other. The deals. The bets. All plot machinations determined to bring two characters together.
What matters though? What sets one rom-com apart from another?
For me, its when the characters transform into people I enjoy spending time with. Plus One pulls off this trick in surprising ways and it does so with one hand tied behind its back. The one hand being Ben (Jack Quaid, son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan), a character who never quite transcends or breaks free from how he’s written. I know this guy. Maybe, once upon a time, I was this guy. Looking for an ideal moreso than a person to love. Breaking up and moving on with no significant cause or pause for concern. I never knew l-l-love (like this) but I was looking for the light, the right one.
It doesn’t help that Quaid, despite being a photoshopped picture-perfect recreation of the softest features of his parents, looks like “that guy”, the stereotypically tall good looking white guy with a beard, a loaf of uncut artisanal bread just sitting on the shelf. He was just the one the guy behind the bakery counter reached for and stuffed into a brown paper bag when the writing-directing team of Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer strolled in and placed their order.
But who was Alice (Maya Erskine) and where was she all my life? I mean both in the real and the reel. I had friends who had my back, ex-girlfriends and platonic crews who rescued me from some bad scenes, life-lining me back to some semblance of life like you rarely see in the movies, so maybe I’m only talking about the reel world. And I am.
Where has Alice – and by Alice, I really mean Erskine – been? This truly is the first time I’ve ever seen her face (although she had a six episode run on HBO’s Insecure), heard her raspy voice that’s always a little hungover, forever trashing her best dude’s choices, boldly talking body parts, flashing them too (offscreen, but it feels like we’re seeing everything somehow), and begging for cuddles and expressions of feelings without making it a gender-based type of thing. She’s so real it hurts to watch sometimes. You need to look away or you’ll wind up blinking back tears.
Erskine plays Alice like a wound that she can’t (or won’t) stop picking at. She constantly wants to feel it, to see if it’s getting better, but every probing touch makes it worse. And then she looks at us, wondering why it’s taking so long.
I love it when characters hold eye contact a beat longer. We see them staring, but not straight into the camera; at the other person onscreen. We call it chemistry, that special something. Erskine exudes this all by herself. She can’t turn it off or hide it from the camera. This is what love looks like, and not just the first time, but the millionth time, when love is no longer new. This is the look you want to see in your partner’s eyes years down the road, the kind that might still lead to a smile or a brushing touch of hands, a shared laugh rooted in a memory.
What I’m saying here is I’m going to remember Maya Erskine. I’m never going to forget the first time ever I saw her face in Plus One.