Netflix’s success with films has been poor this summer.
Titles such as The Gray Man, Spiderhead, Senior Year, Persuasion and The Bubble have all been met with underwhelming reviews despite featuring some of the most exciting actors, writers and directors in Hollywood.
However, as is usually the case with the streaming platform, its less-hyped projects have proved to be far more enjoyable. Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, The Sea Beast, RRR and Wedding Season all managed to enthrall in their own ways.
Now, subscribers can add Look Both Ways to the list of hits. Sure, it isn’t quite a Netflix triumph, but the romantic comedy is a coming-of-age feature with more positives than negatives.
Look Both Ways tells the story of Natalie (Lili Reinhart). On the eve of her graduation from the University of Texas at Austin, her life separates into two parallel realities, which unfold side by side.
In the first story, after spending the night with her close friend Gabe (Danny Ramirez), Natalie discovers she is pregnant. This scuppers her plan to move across the country to Los Angeles to become an animation filmmaker. Instead, she moves into the home of her parents Rick and Tina (Luke Wilson, Andrea Savage), who also live in Texas.
After the birth of their daughter, Rose, the new parents can’t decide if they should become a couple, while Natalie also struggles to launch her own career and maintain a social life.
Meanwhile, in the other story, Gabe and Natalie’s romantic encounter doesn’t result in a pregnancy. She’s able to move to Los Angeles with her best friend Cara (Aisha Dee) and lands a job at her dream film studio, which is run by Lucy (Nia Long).
Romance soon blossoms between Natalie and her colleague Jake (David Corenswet). But while she falls in love with Los Angeles, she can’t quite make the step up in her career, which soon starts to impact her relationship with Jake.
Look Both Ways will invariably draw comparisons with Sliding Doors, as the 1998 romantic comedy-drama starring Gwyneth Paltrow uses the same narrative approach, which itself was inspired by the 1987 Polish film Blind Chance.
However, Netflix's feature quickly establishes itself as a film in its own right, thanks largely to a delightfully endearing leading performance from Reinhart. While both versions of Natalie are never wholly different — as she always remains driven, fearless, passionate and funny — she’s able to tease additional layers into the character.
Thanks to April Prosser’s well-written script — her screenwriting debut — each version of Natalie feels authentic. Prosser and director Wanuri Kahiu also don’t shy away from some sensitive topics, incorporating them with a detail and heart that makes each plot point relatable. This gives Look Both Ways a bittersweet edge, which sets it apart from other coming of age dramas.
These plots include Natalie struggling with postnatal depression and making terrible decisions when it comes to her relationship with Gabe in one storyline, while overreacting at her job and also with Jake in the other.
Kahiu’s direction is spot on throughout. Admittedly, it does start slowly. During this period, though, the foundations for a thoroughly enjoyable film are laid.
Not only does Kahiu maintain a nice rhythm to the story, but she always manages to ensure audiences know which narrative you’re following. At the same time, there’s some nice visual parallels and motifs to help to make Look Both Ways’ imagery interesting.
She’s aided in this pursuit by her cinematographer Alan Caudillo, whose soft and warm approach only enhances the film’s appeal.
Look Both Ways is also assisted by some terrific supporting performances. Both Wilson and Savage make for the perfect on-screen parents, providing laughs and heart at the right moments.
Meanwhile, Jake and Gabe make nice foils for Natalie, although it soon becomes clear who she should end up with. The correct answer is obviously Gabe.
However, while Look Both Ways always does just enough to keep you hooked and intrigued, it never manages to actually produce a killer scene or moment to take it to the next cinematic echelon.
At the same time, while its ending does offer signs of a meaningful message, it ultimately becomes predictable and a tad too cheesy and idyllic.
That doesn’t stop the journey to it from being effective and even a little charming. Which is more than can be said of most of its Netflix counterparts.
While it might not be one audiences fall in love with forever, Look Both Ways will certainly capture them for summer romance, if only for one evening.
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