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Benefits With Friends

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Maria Rusche

MOVIE REVIEW
Dating & New York (2021)

Romantic comedies are such an endangered species who cares if “Dating & New York” lives up to its generic title. The fact an adorable movie concerned only with the happiness of pretty young people has been made these days is automatically worthy of high praise.

Fortunately the praise is easily justified: The dating app through which Wendy (Francesca Reale) and Milo (Jaboukie Young-White, capably proving himself more than a fire Twitter feed) encounter each other is called Meet Cute. This idea alone is so strong writer-director Jonah Feingold deserves a long career ahead of him. But it doesn’t initially seem like Milo and Wendy will have much of a future together: They go out for drinks, hit it and quit it; and that’s it, until Milo goes to a brunch party with his best friend, Hank (Brian Muller). There Hank mocks Milo’s pick-up technique of pointing at a random and announcing “That’s the girl I’m going to marry!” until the random bounces up to their table. She is Jessie (Catherine Cohen), with whom Hank is immediately besotted. And once it turns out Jessie and Wendy were friends in college, they sort of become a foursome.

Only sort of, that is. While Hank and Jessie are all over each other and jumping headlong into commitment, Wendy is recovering from a bad breakup and taking her time getting back out there. And while Milo is quite keen to settle down – there’s a hilarious flashback of him dumping a previous girlfriend for never posting about him on her Instagram grid, instead keeping him hidden in her stories – he’s equally keen to take full advantage of being young and fancy-free. So when Wendy suggests they do the couple stuff without actually being a couple, Milo doesn’t take much convincing.

If you think this sounds an awful lot like “When Harry Met Sally . . . ,” down to a four-way video chat scene, you’d be right; but who cares. This is a romantic comedy in which no one is lying to anybody; there are no contrived plot points or shady journalistic ethics; just the attempts of four adorable young people to find love in their crazy city despite themselves. Ms. Reale is a subtle comedienne who builds a real character despite the joint requirements of being both quirky and adorable; and while Ms. Cohen does not quite succeed at stepping out of Carrie Fisher’s shadow, she has her own biting comic timing. Mr. Young-White plays Milo as in love with Hank as he is with the women in his life, an about-time choice for a romantic lead – there’s even a very funny scene intercutting the girls and the boys having separate dish sessions, but with the same touchy-feely body language. But it’s Mr. Muller who steals the film. Hank is a finance bro who’s as surprised as anybody that he falls so hard and fast for Jessie, but he’s into it, with the quiet big dick energy of someone with nothing to prove. Mr. Muller even shows Hank thinking before he speaks; and when was the last time you saw that, instead of an actor waiting for his turn to recite his lines? Maria Rusche’s cinematography gives the ol’ reliable locations a modern edge; Michelle J. Li’s production design hits the right balance of hipster chic and urban gloom; and Mr. Feingold’s cameo is much funnier than indulgent director cameos usually manage to be. The movie knows it’s not breaking any fresh new ground – Wendy’s yellow umbrella makes that pretty clear – but honestly, it’s so sweet and charming and well-made who cares.

Now. Why was this movie set in New York City? It’s not necessarily a romantic place – Wendy and Milo’s first kiss next to a mound of garbage as tall as they are a case in point – but it’s full of places for pretty young people to meet and mingle, and easy ways for pretty young people to get there. Can cities like Chicago, Nashville, Denver or Houston say the same? Not so much. But while it would have been fresher to move this story to a city whose streets are not so romantically well-trod, that would have forced a dwelling on logistics that a New York setting can ignore. That would be both the logistics of dating in a city built for cars instead of public transport (i.e., the class issues a rom-com generally swerves), but also the logistics of a mixed-race couple not having race come up once. And who the hell wants to get bogged down in logistics while hoping the pretty young people get it together? Let this be the beginning of a beautiful franchise.

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