"Plus One" Asks Why Be Alone When You Can Settle?
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
If you weren’t subjected to a wedding this summer, but want to cringe at a wedding toast, Plus One is the movie for you. Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer’s film, which recently arrived on Hulu, features over 20 different toasts of all different varieties -- sentimental, awkward, funny, spiteful, jealous -- each with their own take on what it means to say you'll be with someone forever. The main characters, of course, have their own ideas. When Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine) agree to be each other’s +1 for wedding season, the plan seems like a win-win, as recently single Alice won’t have to attend alone and longtime single Ben will have a wingman. You can see where this is going. Plus One is a rom-com and it knows it, which means it also knows how to play with the genre.
Where the woman in a movie like this is stereotypically looking for love, Alice isn't even looking for a rebound, just a friend. Ben is the one looking for love, on an exhaustive search for "The One." Who is “The One” for Ben? Alice, obviously. But Ben believes that “The One” could be Jess Ramsey (Brianne Howey), the tall, blonde, conventionally attractive woman he kissed once back in college. He claims that if Jess was single tomorrow he’d date her and it would work out. Alice points out that even if he did get a chance with Jess, he would quickly find something wrong with her and bail, just like he has with every other woman. Sure enough, Ben spends the movie systematically rejecting women one by one. It would be exhausting to watch, if not for Alice as his wingman. Her antics, carried out by Erskine’s comedic instinct and physical gags, add much-needed levity to Ben’s brooding. This dynamic also makes it increasingly clear that Alice is the one for Ben and vice versa, as she needs someone to laugh at her jokes as much as he needs to lighten up.
When Ben and Alice inevitably get together, he proves her right by dumping her over something entirely inconsequential. This sends Ben downhill, as well as the film, as Erskine is off-screen. Still, Quaid’s performance as the worst version of Ben is so viscerally uncomfortable that you can’t look away. He turns into “that guy” at the wedding, hitting on any woman that’s standing alone and inserting himself into groups of dancing women that want nothing to do with him. Any confidence he has is consumed by his philosophical crisis over how anyone can be sure of how they feel about each other. That's when Matt (Beck Bennett) intervenes to let him know that everyone has doubts about their significant other, but that "it's nice to tell someone you're in and [...] it's nice to hear it back." The speech in its entirety is the best of the movie and is also the push Ben needs to stop overthinking and go back to Alice.
However, Ben’s interpretation of Matt’s message is somewhat disappointing. Though it doesn't come up when he's trying to get Alice back (which of course he does), in the final toast of the movie, Ben says that “if you spend your whole life looking for perfect, you’ll wind up with nothing.” Does that mean Ben’s with Alice because he genuinely loves her, in spite of his doubts about her? Or is he with her because she’s better than nothing? For a film that is so aware of its own genre, this isn’t the most romantic ending, but maybe that’s the point.