The Perfect Date Was Not So Perfect

For some reason unbeknownst to me, Friday nights at college are always quiet. I describe them as “academic nights devoted to supporting your friends in their academic pursuits.” So, after supporting my friend’s work in a senior’s honors thesis show, we shuffled to my friends’ dorm room to settle in for a movie night. I prefer my rom coms with a sense of wit, subtle sexism that gets me riled up, and most importantly, takes place in the 80s. Netflix’s most recent romantic comedy directed by Chris Nelson, The Perfect Date, was none of these things, but I had some faith given the success of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which the protagonist Noah Centineo starred in, as well. I will be honest that I went in with no knowledge about the plot of the movie, so perhaps that was what rubbed me the wrong way. However, what I think is the real problem is that romantic comedies these days take one trend from pop culture — in this case dating apps — and transpose it onto the basic romantic comedy plot: unpopular or angsty girl meets attractive boy, they become friends, another more popular girl who is actually mean is introduced, and then by the end the boy realizes that the first girl is whom he actually loves. Throw in some emotional dilemmas and the boy or girl’s best friend and you have a movie! Easy peasy.

The Perfect Date follows Brooks Rattigan (played by Noah Centineo), a senior at a public high school in Bridgeport, Connecticut, who is bent on going to Yale University in the fall. His mom left him and his father when he was young and now his dad spends most of his time on their couch, working on his writing and holding out for a scholarship to continue his work. Throughout the film Brooks is editing his college essay; the first draft is five pages and begins with “My name is Brooks Rattigan.” I hate to tell you this Brooks, but in no world or admissions office will that grab the attention of the reader. I mean come on, you can think of something more original. Anyway. When Brooks isn’t studying, he is working at “Sub Sub” with his best friend Murph (played by Odiseas Georgidias). Despite Brooks’ good looks and obvious intelligence, he is picked on at school by Reece (played by Zak Steiner), which seems like a gross interpretation of high school bullying. One day Brooks overhears Reece complaining about having to bring his cousin to her school dance. Brooks, the chivalrous prince of shining arm that he is, offers to take Reece’s place as long as he can drive Reece's fancy car (don’t ask me what kind of vehicle it is, I can only say that it was fast, blue, and had two side doors).

Enter: Celia Liberman (played by Laura Marano). I swear “Lieberman” was the last name of another girl in another romantic comedy...plagiarism? If you recognize Celia, it’s because the same actress played Ally in Disney’s “Austin and Ally” (#tbt). Celia is an independent, angsty teenager who rejects high heels and Brooks’ offer of opening the car door. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut and will be attending University of Michigan in the fall. When Brooks hears this, he audibly guffaws and asks why she isn’t trying for an ivy, declaring “isn’t that like your birthright?” It is this remark and the later fact that Celia’s father just so happens to be friends with the head of admissions at Yale that marks Celia as a privileged white girl. While her emotional demons are validated, her elitism is clear in her perfect family, nice room, and beautiful clothes — my favorite was a glittery gold skirt and black tank top. However, what is refreshing about Celia is that she doesn’t hide the fact that she is privileged or pretend that it’s not true; it is this awareness that makes the audience sympathize and respect her character. And of course prefer her over Brooks who although comes from a poorer background, is so outright arrogant about going to Yale that by the end I wanted to punch his face through the TV screen. Perhaps that is a hyperbole. Although it is clear that Celia really doesn’t care whether Brooks has fun at the dance or even likes her, the audience can feel the sexual tension building between the two from the getco. However, their love (as usual) doesn’t become apparent (at least to Brooks) until the very end. This is partly due to Brooks’ fascination with the popular girl from Celia’s high school, Shelby Pace (played by Camila Mendes). His interest in Shelby is another instance of his obsession with the superficial and what he thinks will make him happy.

After this successful night out of chauffeuring a woman to an event (it’s the twenty-first-century, is this really necessary?), Brooks and Murph, who is a computer science wiz, hatch a plan to design a dating app so women can request Brooks to bring them anywhere they want to go, whether it be an art gallery opening, rodeo, or on coffee date to practice going on dates (my personal favorite). The app is called “The Stand In” and Murph added in a bonus feature just for Brooks so that he track the amount of money he has made in terms of what is needed to pay for his tuition for Yale. If he gets in, which seems to be a detail Brooks continues to forget. As the app becomes more successful and Brooks consequently becomes more busy with “dates,” his friendship with Murph suffers. This element of the plot is what results in not a lot of screen time for Murph, which I was sad about because I often feel that the best-friend in every movie or TV series is the best character. Thus, I wish we learned more about Murph. He is black and gay, in love with one a boy who always orders a tuna melt on seven grain at Sub Sub. While I appreciate Chris Nelson’s attempt to modernize the film and include marginalized groups in society, Murph’s character feels like a flippant attempt to do so. By the end of the movie Murph ends up with the tuna melt guy on seven grain guy and secures a spot at the University of Connecticut, but this character development — if you can even call it that — seems rushed.

Not only did the film touch upon the modern relationships and the popular trend of dating apps, but it also incorporated the recent scandal of corruption and bribery in college admissions offices. Even more ironic is that Brooks wants to go to Yale, one of the several colleges tied up in this scandal. Perhaps the film is actually a satire on this whole scandal and the bad acting is an attempt to hit home this fact. If so, I didn’t get that, but if it is the truth then I would bump up my review from one star to two stars. As I mentioned earlier, Brooks desperately wants to go to Yale, despite the fact that he was accepted to the University of Connecticut full ride. His character represents the surface-level superficiality of students who believe happiness and success depends on attending an elite college. I have to admit that I was once one of these students, but when I finally realized that you make your college experience, not the college, the pressure and weight of attending a school like Yale evaporated. That being said, it was amusing to watch Brooks interview at Yale, stating that he spends all of this time studying and working hard, but not attending social gatherings. Besides working at a sub shop, he is part of the French Club and National Honors Society, but these are again flippant remarks that don’t carry much meaning. Ironically, I was part of both of these clubs in High School; but the difference between me and Brooks is that French language and culture is a passion for me, while for Brooks it seems to be just a thing to add to his resume in order to get into his dream school. There isn’t anything wrong with this, but Brooks’ mannerisms emphasize this point to no end. Before his interview, he did some research on the admissions officer and discovered that he was fascinated by bees; thus, Brooks pretends to be an amateur beekeeper. Ah, the old “here is a wacky hobby that no one else is your applicant pool has so please dear God accept me.” Most of us have probably been there, but again there is nothing wrong with this, but for Brooks there certainly is something ethically wrong as he lied about this fact. It isn’t until the very end of the movie that Brooks realizes that he doesn’t know who he is or what his real hobbies are and Yale isn’t one of them. He accepts University of Connecticut’s offer and for the first time, he acts like a genuine human being and student.

That being said, the main takeaway from The Perfect Date is that you shouldn’t rely on institutions to define your happiness or success. The only way to be happy in life is to discover who you are and to love yourself for these characteristics. This is obviously easier said than done, but small gestures, like writing an apology letter to a friend disguised as an application essay to the “University of Celia” (albeit problematic as this letter is essentially objectifying her as an institution) and supporting your father when he wins a scholarship, are moments when you can be there for others and feel good on the inside, rather than on the outside. After all, the outside is really just the facade we create to convince people we are happy.