In 2018, “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” broke new ground on Netflix by introducing a choose-your-own-adventure style to movie-watching. Audiences could use their remote to navigate through various plot routes, making key decisions at critical moments. These choices led to different endings—some concluding the story and others sending viewers back to make a different decision. This interactive approach caught on quickly, expanding into other genres with shows like the comedic “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend,” the animated “We Lost Our Human,” and the adventurous “Ranveer vs. Wild with Bear Grylls.”
Now, this fresh idea has made its way into the realm of sweet and emotional rom-com with “Choose Love.” Under the direction of Stuart McDonald (“A Perfect Pairing”) and the creative vision of writer-producer Josann McGibbon (“Runaway Bride”), we’re introduced to a woman whose heart is torn between three men from her past, present, and future. The catch? In a genre that hasn’t quite embraced polyamory, it’s up to us to play Cupid and lead her to her fairy-tale ending. As we embark on these paths, it becomes clear that our leading lady rarely gets the chance to self-reflect or discover herself beyond the romantic entanglements with her trio of admirers.
Laura, played by Laura Marano, isn’t quite content with her life. She’s got a snug house in Los Angeles where she lives close to her sister (Megan Smart), her brother-in-law (Benjamin Hoetjes), and her adorable niece (Nell Fisher). Yet, she dreams of having her own family. She’s secure in her job as a recording engineer but yearns for more creative challenges and a nicer paycheck. Plus, there’s Paul (Scott Michael Foster), her good-looking and devoted boyfriend of three years, who she has a hunch might be getting ready to propose. With uncertainty about what lies ahead and the weight of commitment on her shoulders, Laura seeks guidance from a psychic (Jacque Drew), who reveals that two other love interests are about to step into her life: Jack (Jordi Webber), a free-spirited photographer she once dated, and Rex (Avan Jogia), a rock musician who could help her achieve her professional dreams.
The game mechanics are pretty simple. Laura often turns directly to us, much like in “Fleabag,” especially when she’s wrestling with her conscience and needs to make a choice. Early on, we’re presented with two paths that seem different but lead to similar outcomes. It’s only after Laura experiences an intense dream where each of the men vying for her heart urges her to pick him that our decisions start leading her down wildly different paths. For those of us who find decision-making as tricky as our protagonist does, this can mean either successfully reaching the story’s conclusion or being trapped in a relentless loop of hesitation and do-overs.
The themes of fate and destiny in the movie, along with the characters and their dilemmas, all seem to skim the surface. It’s hard to dive deep into Cami’s life because the film requires us to step in and solve problems. The male characters are pretty basic, existing mainly to push Cami’s story forward. Despite the charming interactions between Marano, who shone in “The Royal Treatment,” and her co-stars Jogia, Foster, and Webber, they can’t quite lift the mundane script. Rex’s song “All I Want Is You” could have been a hit, but it ends up sounding more like a tune that didn’t make it onto a John Mayer album rather than the catchy Harry Styles-like track it aims to be. And this isn’t even a choice we get to weigh in on; it’s all Cami’s doing, which makes us wonder if she’s really cut out for her career.
Even our main character doesn’t get the depth she deserves in any version of the story. We hear about her dreams and goals instead of seeing them come to life in a meaningful way. When we make choices for her that are a bit sneaky—like not being completely truthful or kissing Jack when she shouldn’t—we’re rewarded with more laughs and antics. But when she switches from one love interest to another, we miss out on choices that could have given us and the characters a real emotional punch.
Just like in real life, there aren’t clear-cut, right choices that lead to a guaranteed happy ending. Reflecting our protagonist’s hesitation to delve into the ‘what-ifs’ of relationships, we’re eventually allowed to go back and change our decisions. While this sounds intriguing in theory, it just leads to one letdown after another in practice. The filmmakers struggle to turn their tricky scenarios into satisfying endings, leaving us with exasperating outcomes. The movie invites us to ‘Choose Love,’ but perhaps it would be wiser for viewers to opt out of playing this game.
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