In the growing mini genre of Netflix original teen movies starring Noah Centineo, the latest entry, The Perfect Date, falls squarely in the middle of the pack.
When To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before — the first entry in the genre — came out last August, people kept telling me that they normally hate teen movies but felt compelled to watch that one twice. The Perfect Date is perfectly fine, but it’s not that kind of movie. Instead, it’s the kind of movie that I, someone who like teen flicks, watched once, enjoyed, and now never need to watch again.
Meanwhile, when Sierra Burgess Is a Loser came out in September, I actively disliked it and cringed my way through most of the scenes. The Perfect Date is not that kind of movie either. Never once did anyone onscreen do anything particularly aversive or embarrassing.
The Perfect Date is competent. It is just fine. It’s a perfectly middle-of-the-road teen flick, and it is notable mostly because it gives Centineo plenty of opportunities to do what he does best: gaze longingly at girls.
Centineo plays Brooks Rattigan, a high-achieving working-class kid who dreams of going to Yale so that he can change the world in some yet-to-be-determined manner. To make enough money to pay for an Ivy League tuition, Brooks begins renting himself out as a non-sexual escort: In exchange for a reasonable fee, he lets girls choose his personality for the evening and sculpt him into their perfect date. In a rapid-fire montage, he becomes a salsa dancer, an art history major, a jerk, a prep.
But while Brooks is great at becoming who other people want him to be, he has no idea who he actually is. That’s why searching for himself becomes the thematic spine of the movie, as he constantly latches onto status symbols that he believes will give him an identity. He is obsessed with attending Yale even though he has a full ride to the University of Connecticut. He’s infatuated with popular rich girl Shelby (Camila Mendes, a.k.a. Veronica from Riverdale), even though any fool can see that he’s meant to be with sardonic cool girl Celia (a nicely deadpan Laura Marano).
It’s in the love story that Centineo shines. His greatest skill as an actor is his ability to look at his love interests with mingled respect, admiration, and longing — which is also the greatest asset any rom-com leading man can have. And Marano plays Celia with a pleasing acerbic spikiness that contrasts beautifully with Centineo’s nice-guy chill.
But The Perfect Date is never quite specific enough about its characters to make the story sing. Instead, it tends to rely on cliché to give the audience the gist of a storyline, and then asks us to fill in the rest.
It tells us that Celia is cool because in her first scene, she’s wearing combat boots with a frilly dress, which has obviously never been done before. It tells us that Shelby is too high-maintenance to be cool because in the first shot of her, she’s taking a selfie, and obviously only vain girls do that. And it tells us that Brooks is a scrappy underdog worthy of our attention because in the first two minutes of the movie, a bully picks on him for being poor.
When executed well, those clichés can still be effective. But The Perfect Date is extremely pat, with no added complexity. It doesn’t have the exuberant love for its tropes and genre that elevated To All the Boys. Instead, it seems to be ticking off its story beats dutifully.
In fact, the most interesting thing about The Perfect Date might be the way its fake dating premise functions as a metaphor for Centineo’s career. Over the eight-month period that he’s been famous, Centineo has maintained his status by molding his public persona into exactly the archetype that the current cultural moment demands from the Internet’s Boyfriend: the hot guy who is also nice and who also acts like he respects women. He has, essentially, been Brooks Rattigan-ing all of America, and a few PR wobbles aside, he’s mostly pretty good at it. That’s kind of fascinating — and it has very little to do with anything this movie is ostensibly setting out to do.
As for what The Perfect Date actually is setting out to do, namely explore the instability of adolescent identity with some jokes and romance on the side? It’s fine! It’s perfectly pleasant! If you like teen movies, you’ll most likely enjoy watching it. And then you will most likely never think about it again.