One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 102
By Laurence Lerman / New York City
In the new romantic comedy Meet Cute, stars Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson have their first encounter in a divey downtown Manhattan bar. Kaley spots Pete sitting at the far end of the bar, she approaches him with the offer of a drink, he shyly accepts, and she launches into a mile-a-minute explanation on how she’s caught in a time loop where the same day keeps repeating itself over and over again. A reluctant but curious Pete accepts what she has to say and the pair set out on their first “date,” one that is destined to repeat itself again and again until the loop is broken.
Meet Cute is the latest spin on the time loop story gimmick that was first and best used in 1993’s Groundhog Day, as well as a number of other titles across the genre spectrum. (The 2014 Tom Cruise futuristic thriller Edge of Tomorrow is a solid sci-fi example.) But the “meet cute” script element—a romantic couple-to-be meets for the first time, typically under humorous, unusual or, yes, cute circumstances—is a staple of romantic comedies, and has been for many decades.
The origin of the term goes back to the great German-born filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch, whose command of English was spotty when he was trying to describe the initial encounter between Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper in his 1938 romantic comedy Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife. In this case, wealthy businessman Cooper seeks to buy the top part of a set of pajamas and the store refuses to break up the set, but the lively Colbert pops up and offers to purchase the bottoms.
Thus, they meet and it’s cute!
The notion of the meet cute is an easy one and it has become a nearly indispensable ingredient in the rom-com oeuvre. When it’s a good one, a meet cute hints at both things to come for the film’s characters while also suggesting the tone audiences can expect in the movie.
I’d conservatively estimate there have been approximately, oh, a zillion meet cutes in the movies over the past century or so. Not all of them have clicked, but I’m thinking that the following 10 could coax a smile from even the most cynical of us.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Directed by Rob Reiner
After they meet while sharing a cross-country drive that starts in Chicago, and subsequently discuss modern relationships until they pull into the Big Apple, it’s clear that Billy Crystal’s Harry and Meg Ryan’s Sally are destined for true love. They just don’t realize it through all their bickering and subsequent years-long friendship. The performances and chemistry of the two leads, a winning Nora Ephron script, crisp direction from Reiner and a romantic NYC backdrop turned this one into an instant rom-com classic.
Out of Sight (1998)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Jennifer Lopez’s U.S. Marshall and George Clooney’s gentleman bank robber get to know each other when they share the very cramped and darkened trunk of the car of one of Clooney’s buddies. There are a number of bumps and grinds on the road that follows, but none as intimate or delightful as the one they encounter while sharing such close automotive quarters.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Directed by Howard Hawks
The day before his wedding to a society gal, adorably dorky paleontologist Cary Grant meets free-spirited heiress Katherine Hepburn on a golf course when she accidentally plays his golf ball. Enter a brontosaurus bone, a leopard named Baby and an increasingly wacky set of circumstances in this beloved screwball comedy romance.
Something Wild (1986)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
A yuppie investment banker gets taken for a ride (literally!) by an out-there downtown gal with a Louise Brooks bob after she catches him skipping out on the check in a Soho coffee shop. Cue a road trip to Virginia, a high-school reunion and her nasty ex-con husband. It all proved to be career-launching stuff for Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith and a very scary Ray Liotta.
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Directed by Marc Webb
One of the aughts’ sweetest romantic comedies begins when greeting card writer Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) meets executive assistant Summer (Zooey Deschanel) in the company elevator and they both realize their common love of The Smiths (who Summer overhears playing on Tom’s headphones). Their romance thus begins…and ends some 500 days later, but not before they’ve lived, loved and grown.
Love Jones (1997)
Directed by Theodore Witcher
Poet Darius (Larenz Tate) and photographer Nina (Nia Long) meet while waiting for a drink at a jazzy Chicago nightclub, prompting Darius to change the title of the poem he later reads onstage to include Nina’s name. Nina is fresh off a breakup, but decides to give in to gut feeling…and all the tingly vibes that accompany it.
The Lady Eve (1942)
Directed by Preston Sturges
Traveling aboard an ocean liner, con artist Barbara Stanwyck makes her move on nerdy but wealthy beer heir Henry Fonda with the time-honored method of tripping him as he walks past her table in the ship’s dining room—and then giving him hell for breaking the heel off her shoe. Over the next hour-and-a-half of this Sturges classic, the two fall in and out of love—and then do it again.
Body Double (1984)
Directed by Brian De Palma
They all don’t have to be rom-coms, right? How about this De Palma thriller that finds Craig Wasson “meeting” adult starlet Melanie Griffith in an anonymous tryst while filming an orgy scene in an L.A. porn flick? This flashy Eighties flick represents Melanie’s second appearance on the list and I haven’t even mentioned her meet cute with Harrison Ford in 1986’s Working Girl!
Top Gun (1986)
Directed by Tony Scott
Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”
Before Sunrise (1995)
Directed by Richard Linklater
After they both peek at a bickering German couple on a train ride to Vienna, American guy Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and the oh-so-French mademoiselle Celine (Julie Delpy) find themselves chatting it up themselves. The small talk prompts the two to spend the night talking and walking the streets of the Austrian capitol—and to continue their budding romance over the course of two subsequent films, Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013).
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.