Art imitates life, and life imitates art. Somewhere along the way, someone thought of distilling the essence of a relationship between two people into movies, stories, and shows. They drilled it into our minds that there’s a certain way that two people fall in love with each other, and there are two ways it’s going to end. Either there’s going to be a “happily ever after” or a breakup. The finiteness of this kind of storytelling diluted our idea (or, to be specific, my idea) of romance and made the genre and our lives cliche and boring. But there’s more to it than a starting and an ending point. There are limitless possibilities, obstacles, and opportunities in the journey that’s life. And I am so happy to report that that’s what “Look Both Ways” explores in endearing and comedic ways.
Directed by Wanuri Kahiu and written by April Prosser, “Look Both Ways” starts off with friends Natalie (Lili Reinhart) and Gabe (Danny Ramirez) mapping out the lives ahead of them. Natalie has a five-year plan in the profession of animation. Gabe intends to take his career as a drummer in his band forward. And to celebrate the fact that they’re going to graduate, they partake in a one-night stand since they’ve always had feelings for each other. On graduation night, though, she finds herself in the bathroom with her friend Cara (Aisha Dee), waiting for her pregnancy test. And as the result arrives, the narrative breaks into two paths. In one reality, she doesn’t get pregnant and begins her five-year plan by moving to LA with Cara. In the second reality, she gets pregnant and restructures her five-year plan to raise the child with Gabe.
The USA witnessed the regressive overturning of abortion rights, thereby making abortion illegal in many states. So, in this climate, it’s quite ballsy for a movie to come out and say that it’s pro-choice and advocates for whatever the woman decides for herself. And that’s where the positive aspects of “Look Both Ways” begin. Prosser and Kahiu aren’t overly cynical about those who choose to have a baby right after they graduate from college. They aren’t overwhelmingly positive in their portrayal of the single life where one follows their dreams. They see life as a sinusoidal wave, replete with highs and lows. The frequency and duration of these highs and lows can vary from person to person. But they state that if someone is determined (and has a healthy sprinkling of privilege), they’ll be able to regulate the frequency and duration of their highs and lows.
Now, Natalie is written as a person who is passionate about her work. She is kind, loving, and caring. She is very charming. And, with the intention of sounding repetitive, she is incredibly determined to be the best at her job as an aspiring animator. But “Look Both Ways” puts heavy emphasis on the people around her, i.e., Cara’s parents, Rick (Luke Wilson) and Tina (Andrea Savage), and, of course, her lovers, Jake (David Corenswet) and Gabe. Yes, like the flawed person she is, Natalie sometimes takes these relationships for granted. However, she does eventually realize how important they are to her. As for Jake and Gabe, the way they conduct themselves, the way they treat Natalie (despite hitting some rough spots), and the way they are devoid of almost any toxic masculine trait is aspirational. The folks are right. Men written by women are just better in every way.
It’s probably why the romance in “Look Both Ways” seems very organic. Yes, these are very attractive people falling in love with very attractive people in the most cliched ways possible because it’s ultimately a movie. But the tenets that they live by and the way they express their love or their qualms about each other are so common across genders, races, and countries that it’s hard not to find it relatable. The same goes for the comedy. The jokes don’t bring the movie to a halt. They are written into the character, and the casting is so perfect that it flows in the most natural way possible. The only issues that I do have with the film are the pacing, Lucy’s (Nia Long) “tough love,” and the fact that Netflix (which is notorious for its treatment of animators) is presenting a movie about animators. You can ease into the pacing, but the other two are unforgivable.
The overall look and feel of “Look Both Ways” is simplistic and inviting. The music by Drum & Lace and Ian Hultquist is cozy. The cinematography by Alan Caudillo, the editing by Brad Leach, the art direction by Christy Gray, and the production design by Keith Brian Burns are efficient in terms of showing the two realities and the various phases of Natalie’s life. Colin Wilkes’s costume design is so fantastic that if I could’ve pulled off everything that the characters in the movie wear, I would have. The entire cast is excellent. Luke Wilson and Andrea Savage have some of the funniest and most huggable moments. Danny Ramirez and David Corenswet are such dreamboats that you won’t mind swooning over them throughout the film. Aisha Dee nails Cara’s unique mix of empathy and sass. But at the end of the day, Lili Reinhart takes the cake. The range she showcases is astounding, as she truly makes you feel that you’ve been on a rollercoaster ride with Natalie.
In conclusion, “Look Both Ways” works as a rom-com because you get to lose yourself in a world filled with conventionally attractive people going about their lives. Wanuri Kahiu and co. are aware of the genre norms. So, they evidently play into it. But it also works as a genre-bending rom-com that makes us question the definition of romance in our lives. In fact, it asks us to not see a relationship as a set of variables but as a journey with more than two possibilities. There’s a lot of interesting commentary about animation that everyone (especially the execs over at Netflix) should listen to. The cast is excellent, and Lili Reinhart is just the best. And since all this praise is coming from someone who’s cynical about romance, you can be damn sure that it’s worth a watch.