Players (2024)

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Players (2024)

Players“, directed by Trish Sie and written by Whit Anderson, is a conventional romantic comedy. So we know how it will end before it even begins. That’s not a bug; it’s a feature, one that is used effectively here. Ever since Shakespeare, rom-coms have been loved for their predictability, and that is what I like about them. They either become lovers after being enemies or friends or everyone gets taught some sort of lesson in life.

The difference lies in the details, and rom-com live or die on the strength of those details: living with a quirky Welsh roommate, faking an orgasm at Katz’s Deli, mocking hideous Christmas sweaters, falling in love over the radio waves, leading your colleagues in “Thriller” at a work party or listening to AOL dial-up tones as you wait for love to strike — I could go on forever with these examples. (I’m showing my age here.) But the point is that great rom-com celebrate the absurdities of everyday life, showcasing minor characters and inconveniences so strange that they make the people on screen feel less relatable than aspirational versions of ourselves. Which means there’s hope for us all.

Players” does not traffic much in memorable specifics; more than once while watching this movie I felt as if I had seen it before. Most of its characters are journalists always a good sign for a rom-com but they occupy a world where working at a newspaper, magazine or website has little bearing on what journalism entails. (Again: Look, I would know.) But if it is familiar and slightly forgettable too often during its 106 minutes,” “Players” remains enjoyable to watch anyway. The film follows Mack (Gina Rodriguez), short for Mackenzie, a sports reporter at what appears to be a New York alt-weekly with enough money left over in its budget to cover wacky local sports such as “chess boxing.”

She is the ultimate cool girl 33 years old, both a bombshell and a tomboy, unable to cook a meal or finish a book. She hangs out in bars until the last call and knows more about sports than all of her friends who are all men: Adam (Damon Wayans Jr.), who writes about city politics; Brannagan (Augustus Pew), an obituary writer; and Little Brannagan (Joel Courtney), who is Brannagan’s little brother. The quartet has an elaborate, unwritten set of plays they run to help one another pickup people at the bar. Hence the title.

Mack and Adam used to date in college, but now they’re just friends. Mack has set her sights on Nick (Tom Ellis), a Pulitzer finalist war correspondent whom she quickly realizes is an adult. Could she be ready for that? Of course not! So her companions suit up to help her land him anyway — but you know how it goes.

“Players” is great because of the rhythm and friendship between the main characters, whose jokes are quick and dirty and feel true to a group of people who have been around each other for too long. Wayans and Rodriguez in particular have that kind of chemistry that takes over a scene, and as they all four weave around New York doing New York things (hanging out in the park, eating brunch, doing shots, ogling beautiful strangers), it’s fun to watch them. But it lacks those strangely observed specifics (one character’s defining feature is basically that he’s bisexual) that make a rom-com really sing, and I think that’s this ensemble’s biggest missed opportunity.

There’s also something about Mack’s whole cool girl/hot mess thing that feels tired to me like it’s supposed to be interesting because she is simultaneously these two kinds of women at once. Some women love sports and beer and sex and don’t keep anything in their refrigerator besides cheese; I know some of them personally. But making that a character’s entire personality has always felt reductive.

But “Players” won me over anyway, in part because its characters love each other so sincerely: It is as much a story about love among friends as it is about any couple, and there were enough good gags (and great performances) to keep it trucking along. I am still waiting for the great rom-com resurgence. But if you need something fun to put on with Netflix and either Ben & Jerry’s or Guinness (your pick), “Players” will do just fine.

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