Friday 12th April, 2019. The date I had been anticipating; The Perfect Date, if you will. This was the release date of Netflix’s newest teen film starring Noah Centineo and directed by Chris Nelson. So here I was, face mask on, Netflix at the ready and ice cream by my side, expecting another role for Noah Centineo to bring out the 12-year-old girl in myself. However, the movie did not even meet my rom com standards.
Centineo made his debut onto the rom-com scene in ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ (2018), thrusting him into the limelight as the attractive yet nice guy persona. Netflix’s second Centineo installment arrived in September with ‘Sierra Burgess is A Loser’, but due to problematic messages in the film’s writing, the movie did not replicate the success of Centineo’s previous work. Like Sierra Burgess is A Loser (2018), The Perfect Date (2019) –Centineo’s most recent acting role– illustrates the importance of staying true to yourself, but in a manner that is forced, unconvincing and unnatural.
Centineo plays Brooks Rattigan, a senior focused on being accepted into Yale despite his less wealthy background. To save money for college, he starts an app to get paid to stand in as a date for any girls’ needs. His first date is Celia (Laura Marano), an extroverted and “weird” girl. Through Celia’s world, Brooks begins to obsess over wealthy character Shelby (Riverdale’s Camilla Mendes), in the same way he obsesses over Yale.
The movie promotes the ideal that trying to be someone other than yourself will hurt and hinder the relationships of people you truly belong with. It showcases the importance of not putting so much thought into material possessions and instead, placing value on yourself and others through Brooks’ realization that his obsession over Yale overlooked his real plans for the future. While the ideal is a touching one, it’s the execution that ultimately lets the movie down.
Centineo tells Entertainment Tonight “there’s a lot more to this film outside of the rom com”, but the film fails to break any stereotypical clichés of the teen movie genre. The soul mate hiding in plain sight; a high school bully; and a ‘manic pixie dream girl’, a trope that Celia’s character falls under. Celia’s character, although independent, is used as a platform for Brooks’ own narrative progression instead of her own, making her purely a catalyst for male transformation.
The first two minutes of the film set the overall rushed pace of the storyline; it’s a film that refuses to fully invest in its characters. A quickly edited introduction results in the protagonist – amongst the rest of the characters – having no complexities from their backstory explained or deeply discussed, resulting in no time for any real development.
Within that opening introduction, Brooks’ Guidance Counselor says his Yale application is not effective because it doesn’t “bare itself and that’s what I hate about it”. This is exactly how I feel about The Perfect Date. We are told Brooks’ mum left him and his father for another family, yet there are no raw emotional scenes that showcase the effects this has had on Brooks and his dad. When there are moments of sentiment, they seemed to be rushed through, losing potential deeper connections with the protagonist.
To the film’s credit, the humour is lighthearted and witty, distracting viewers from the bland storyline underneath. Through cheeky facial expressions and long endearing gazes, Centineo plays a character that can balance being both admiring and sarcastic. Meanwhile, Marano’s performance tries to strike the non-conforming cord of Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) but results in a generalised edgy girl that is cringe induced. She is written as the tough girl who feels she is above high school and its social politics, yet the act doesn’t convince. Her unnatural delivery makes the lines seem but only a template for Brooks to step up to, rather than her own beliefs.
As stated before, the film has its fair share of romantic comedy and teen film tropes, with a large one being the gay best friend. Odiseas Gerorgiadis plays Murph, Brooks’ best friend who creates the apps that drive the storyline. However, Murph gets no deeper storyline of his own. We meet his ‘tuna melt’ crush, but he is seemingly sidelined and relied upon for representation, giving the film credibility for being inclusive. Kathleen Newman-Bremang for Refinery29 wrote that Murph’s presence as the gay black best friend filled the film’s “diversity quota… treating him as a culmination of ticked boxes instead of a fully fleshed human being”.
The film constantly discusses wealth in a confusing paradox. There is an obsession to reduce the wealthy characters to their rich financial status, judging Shelby and her elite peers, however Brooks is presented in a way where he shouldn’t be judged by his lack of wealth. This narrative becomes problematic when Brooks complains about his seemingly great life, whereby the only evidence we see of his family being ‘poor’ is that he drives a car that isn’t a BMW.