Plus One Is the Millennial Answer to When Harry Met Sally
If you see one rom-com this year, make it Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine's latest.
I’m a rom-com aficionado — someone who proudly tells all who inquire that my favorite movie is a three-way tie between Say Anything, Dirty Dancing, and Moonstruck. As such, I’m always eager for my next fix — be it a buzzy Netflix Original or a below-the-radar indie darling.
The formula itself isn’t difficult to reproduce: boy meets girl (or boy) is the oldest story in the world — but every once in a while, you’ll find a movie that not only does the genre and its necessary tropes justice, but makes you reexamine what it really means to live “happily ever after.” Plus One is that movie.
When the film snagged the Audience Award following its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, it only confirmed what early viewers already knew: Plus One is special.
Implicitly paying homage to its rom-com predecessors (ahem, When Harry Met Sally), Plus One stars Meg Ryan’s up-and-coming son Jack Quaid as Ben and PEN15’s co-creator and co-lead Maya Erskine as his best friend Alice.
Reluctant to navigate wedding season alone, a newly single Alice convinces Ben (who’s eager for a “meet-cute”) that they should be each other’s dates to the 10 weddings they have between them.
Writer-director team Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer pulled inspiration for the project from a pivotal phase in their own lives: the dawn of a never-ending wedding season.
“We’ve both gone through this phase where all of our friends suddenly started to get married, and there was just sort of this migration into this new phase of life — like we almost just woke up one morning like ‘Wait a moment, are we behind? Did we miss something? What’s going on here?’" Rhymer told InStyle. “The kind of pathos or anxieties around that really felt like an interesting space to put [Ben and Alice’s] relationship — much more interesting to us than seeing their jobs or day-to-day life. It felt like putting them in this season that’s full of highs and lows and anxiety and all kinds of feelings and emotions would be a really interesting kind of rollercoaster.”
When it came time to cast actors to board that “rollercoaster,” Chan and Rhymer ended up drawing from their pool of fellow former NYU students — but they weren’t simply playing favorites.
“We needed two people who felt like both at the same time could be your best friend and also could be the person you could actually fall for,” Rhymer said.
“As a character on the page, [Ben’s] kind of a pain in the ass,” Chan added, “A lot of people who read it would be like ‘I kind of hate this guy.’ It’s a really hard role because he is someone that’s pretty selfish ... That’s a really tough thing to add sympathy to and charm to. So we always knew with that character it was someone we wanted to be instantly likable — the kind of person you meet and has that charisma and has that sense of like, this is a good person. Jack just has that.”
Naturally, Quaid drew on his rom-com roots for the role. In fact, he prepared by watching what is arguably Ryan’s most famous film, When Harry Met Sally, for the first time. “I was so unbelievably proud of my mom,” he told InStyle of his initial reaction to the movie. “I came into rehearsal that day still sobbing and it was this weird moment where I’m like ‘Guys, I’m just so proud of my mom!’”
The emotion worked to his benefit — he channeled it into a pivotal moment toward the end of Plus One. “I was thinking about the New Year’s scene in the movie and I was just like ‘Oh God,’” Quaid said. “I learned so much — she didn’t have to give me any tips — I just watched what she did, it was incredible.”
Chan and Rhymer have worked with Erskine on several projects throughout the years, including PEN15. “She’s just the most raw person I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Chan said. “Her humor is so natural, it’s never forced, never like ‘Look, I’m being funny! I’m being kooky!’ Everything down from the way she curses to the way she moves — it feels really natural.”
For Chan, collaborating with Erskine came with an “added bonus”: casting an Asian-American as the lead in a rom-com.
“It was something I always wanted to be able to do but couldn’t see myself doing because I had no examples, really, when I was a kid,” Erskine explained. “So I was definitely excited about the possibility to be able to be this character that wasn’t defined by her race ... and yet it also wasn’t stereotypical of being Asian — she was this messy, foul-mouthed, kind of insane character that you don’t really get to see Asian Americans play."
“There were days on set where I was watching her just crush it and hit all these different emotions and cracking up the entire set that I would get really emotional,” Chan added. “And the same thing happened when my parents visited. They were like ‘This is so crazy because I’m looking at this monitor and seeing something I’ve never seen before.’”
With an impressive cast, witty script, and feel-good story set against the all-too-familiar backdrop of wedding season, Plus One ticks all the rom-com boxes, but it’s ultimately elevated by its refusal to tie something as messy and mutable as a relationship into a neat bow.
“Some relationship comedies are wonderful, and a lot of them do fall into this category where they build a version of a relationship that’s really not realistic and it always ends right before the part where everything gets hard and difficult and challenging: meeting somebody and deciding to do something — whether that’s ‘let’s get married,’ whether that’s ‘let’s kiss,'” Rhymer explains.
“And I think just actually getting to deal with some of the messier parts, like being OK with someone’s vulnerability, accepting them for who they are, actually taking the time to learn who they are and not just projecting things onto them, and deal with all of your own insecurities … that was one of the challenges we really wanted to take on, trying to put some of the honesty of what we feel in our own relationships and relationships we’ve had and seen.”
Plus One opens in select theaters on June 14.