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'The Perfect Date' review: Unpolished, but likable rom-com with a charming cast

Laura Marano as Celia Lieberman and Noah Centineo

Laura Marano as Celia Lieberman and Noah Centineo as Brooks Rattigan in "The Perfect Date."  Photo Credit: Netflix

MOVIE "The Perfect Date"

WHEN|WHERE Now streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT’S ABOUT In the hedge-fund suburbs of Connecticut, a not-so-wealthy high schooler, Brooks Rattigan (Noah Centineo), dreams of attending Yale. How he’ll pay for it is unclear, but when Brooks earns a few bucks by escorting a dateless girl to a dance, an idea is born. Brooks launches an app, The Stand-In, offering himself as a guy-for-hire.

MY SAY As Netflix continues to pump out original and exclusive content at a rate that far surpasses the major film studios, a pattern is emerging. With some exceptions, the term “Netflix movie” is beginning to mean any feature with a catchy concept and a talented cast but a visibly low budget and a weak screenplay. “The Perfect Date” is a perfect example.

The movie has oodles of charm, much of it radiating from Centineo, a young dreamboat whose credits include Freeform's “The Fosters” and the Disney Channel film “How to Build a Better Boy.” He’s engaging as a kid whose good nature is often overshadowed by his eagerness to check the right boxes and please the right people. His best friend, Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis), is openly gay, so we know Brooks is not a bigot or a bully. On the other hand, he’s an utter snob who wouldn’t be caught dead at the University of Connecticut, even though his dad (Matt Walsh) teaches there.

Brooks’ first foray into the dating business feels like a stretch. In what world does a father pay for a stranger to take his daughter, Celia Lieberman (Laura Marano), to a high school formal? Contrived doesn’t begin to describe that plot point. We’ll overlook it, though, because Marano is so appealing as Celia, whose prickly individualism will be the antidote to Brooks’ unctuous glad-handing. Marano, another Disney Channel alum, is a dead ringer for Winona Rider circa 1988 but, because she knows it and owns it, she pulls it off beautifully.

It’s worth noting that “The Perfect Date” is about a kid obsessed with the prestige-value of a college degree. It arrives in the middle of a major scandal about wealthy parents who stooped to bribery and test-tampering to get their children into elite schools. The movie may not qualify as prescient or trenchant, exactly, but when its teenage characters talk about real issues — wealth, status, success, happiness — it’s difficult not to start thinking deeper thoughts about broken systems and broken values.

A more ambitious filmmaking team might have turned “The Perfect Date” into something smart and relevant, something with bite — if not a “Risky Business,” than at least an “Easy A.” At any rate, director Chris Nelson keeps the mood upbeat and gives his cast plenty of room to shine, making “The Perfect Date” another perfectly watchable Netflix movie.

BOTTOM LINE An unpolished but likable rom-com with a charming cast.

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