A cursory glance at Netflix’s daily top 10 tells us a great many revealing things, chief among them that quality, or lack thereof, has no bearing on viewership, but also, further down the list is an underlined reminder that nostalgia still rules. It’s not just any nostalgia but a specific kind that transports thirtysomething millennials back to their teenage years, as evidenced by the recent success of Clueless or Jurassic Park or Moesha or Friends, easy access to films and shows many of us had to struggle for back in the day.
It’s filtered through to their original content strategy too, whether it be rebooting The Babysitters Club, casting Jennifer Aniston in Murder Mystery or Sandra Bullock in Bird Box or Christina Milian in Falling Inn Love, the latter now leading to another fallen star headlining her own low-budget rom-com from the same writing duo of Hilary Galanoy and Elizabeth Hackett. This time it’s She’s All That’s “ugly” duckling Rachael Leigh Cook, whose star dimmed rather fast after her Sixpence None the Richer-soundtracked breakout with a string of commercial disappointments (RIP Josie and the Pussycats). But Cook is a face who will still prove instantly recognisable to a generation who feigned surprise when she took off her glasses for Freddie Prinze Jr and was like, really obviously still attractive, and have wondered where she’s been ever since.
She stars as moralistic but hard-up lawyer Susan who takes on cases she believes in but struggles to make ends meet, driving a (stylishly) scrappy old car with a Tiffany album stuck in the cassette player. But one morning her luck shifts when handsome stranger Nick (Damon Wayans Jr) asks her to take on an unusual legal battle. He’s been using dating app Love Guaranteed now for a while and as he reaches date 986, he wants Susan to fight their claim that members will find love by date 1,000. And you can probably guess where this is going.
Like Galanoy and Hackett’s New Zealand-set renovation rom-com Falling Inn Love, this is a slightly above average Lifetime-level piece of fluff that also employs a director, who like his leading lady, has seen better career days. In that film it was Cruel Intentions’ Roger Kumble slumming it and this time, it’s Daredevil’s Mark Steven Johnson who does a slightly better job at making his Netflix paycheque project feel like it could be seen on the big screen. It’s a slick and glossy confection and contains a handful of handsome shots that elevates it just above the very low bar Netflix has set for itself (an exterior pan back to contrast Cook’s character alone with wine next door to her sister’s happy family is unusually impressive). It’s also passably entertaining, a silly and forgettable but mostly charming diversion that should see other ’90s has-beens clamouring for their own star vehicles.
There’s a half-hearted attempt here to skewer or at last lightly poke at dating app culture and it’s a ripe area uneasily filled with companies luring singletons in with the promise of love yet ultimately not wanting them to match up and take their business away. But like many other films or shows that delve into similar territory, Galanoy and Hackett rely on the weary stereotype of digital courtship dominated by one-note one-joke whackjobs, basing the idea of it all on a married person’s worst fear of what a Tinder date would actually be like. Better writers, such as Issa Rae and Aziz Ansari, have also fallen foul to this and so it would be naive to expect much better here but it remains a tiring, simplistic distillation of a far more complex world and in Love Guaranteed, the bad dates get boring real fast.
Cook is a game lead though, enthusiastically throwing herself into the formula she faces, and there’s a natural chemistry with Wayans Jr, a charismatic actor who should be cropping up in far bigger projects than this. It’s weirdly the second Netflix summer comedy to haul out Heather Graham as the outsized comic cameo, weird because she’s not an actor who’s particularly adept at comedy and somehow her presence here is even more embarrassing than it was in Desperados, quite the feat.
There won’t be many viewers who’ll remember it by this time next month but within its swift running time, it just about fits the brief, zipping along at speed buoyed by the charm of its leads, like almost guaranteed instead.