‘Players’ Review: A Perfectly Fine Valentine’s Day Rom-Com About Journalism & Growing Up

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In my humble opinion, Valentine’s Day movies are made for three kinds of people. The first type are those couples who love to watch movies together, and since it’s the day of celebrating love, they want to kick back, put on a simple film (nothing too cerebral or too heavy on the senses) on the TV, and have a fun time. The second type are those who want to put a romantic film on the TV and as it plays in the background, they go about their business (if you know what I mean). And the third type are those who are lonely and professional enough to not have any romantic plans and they can tune into Netflix to watch its latest release the minute it drops and then review it without making the pain of a loveless life be very apparent (okay, maybe a little). However, the trick to standing out from the slew of Valentine’s Day releases is making all these categories of people sit up, pay attention to what’s happening on the screen, and give them a reasonably enjoyable viewing experience. I am glad to report that Players checked all those boxes.

Trish Sie’s Players, which has been written by Whit Anderson, tells the story of a group of friends, Mack, Adam, Brannagan, and Brannagan’s little brother, Little (his actual name is Ryan). Mack, Adam, and Brannagan work at the Brooklyn Ace in the local sports, visuals, and obituaries departments, respectively, while Little is or pretends to be the intern. When they aren’t working, they go around pubs and other public places to hook up with people. But they don’t just approach them and start flirting. They perform elaborate and, to be honest, very complicated romantic heists so that their unsuspecting and attractive targets have no way of getting out of their web of lust, and they keep their 100% success rate intact. One fine day, though, Mack decides to put a stop to these small skirmishes and begin the long battle to rope in Nick because Mack thinks he is “adult enough,” and she wants to settle down with him. That said, when Mack continues to treat Nick as something she wants to achieve and not someone she wants to love, things get complicated for her and everyone around her.

The biggest plus point for Players has to be the character writing and the dialogue. The story is incredibly predictable, but it’s a Valentine’s Day release, so I won’t dock any points for that, especially when it’s elevated by the storytelling. The main four protagonists genuinely feel like they have known each other for decades. There’s so much history between them, and it’s presented in such a digestible way that it feels like you can hear them talk for hours. All the characters feel distinct, and Whit crafts a lot of moments to show why they work as a unit. On top of that, all of them are funny in a very organic way. They never pause for jokes. Instead, they are constantly witty, sarcastic, and adorable. The second biggest plus point is the focus on the characters’ actual jobs. I hate movies (and rom-coms do this a lot) where characters have jobs, and it’s not integral to the plot. Whit was playing with fire by putting all of them in the journalism field, but by using Mack and Nick’s jobs as turning points and by showing why the characters are in this field in the first place, the film won me over.

Players’ take on romance is quite mature. Yes, as mentioned before, the characters go down a pretty predictable path, but it’s the journey and the accompanying commentary that counts. The United States of America and Hollywood films are responsible for popularizing the “hook up and break up” culture. Recently, Americans and American films are reckoning with this trend because they are starting to realize that it’s not a healthy practice. The discourse is still centered around attractive people who have the privilege of hooking up with anyone they want and then think that maybe this rollercoaster ride is a sad one. That said, if people are beginning to realize that romantic relationships are about emotional investment and not a status symbol, then it’s a good thing. So, kudos to Whit for highlighting all of the aforementioned aspects and sending the message that people should get into a relationship with someone who they are comfortable with and avoid spending time on those they want to flaunt as an asset. Whit’s text is undoubtedly elevated by Trish’s impeccable direction. Matthew Clark’s camerawork and Kathryn Himoff’s editing ensure there’s not a single dull moment in the film, and, along with Trish, they ensure that you catch every joke within a joke. Apart from the flat lighting (which is seemingly common in every rom-com so that it doesn’t scare away the normies), it’s a competently made movie.

Trish should get a round of applause for extracting such an amazing performance from the cast of Players. I am pretty sure that the cast had amazing chemistry, but there is a chasm between “having good chemistry” and portraying good chemistry on the screen. However, Trish makes it all look like a walk in the park. I think this is my favorite Gina Rodriguez performance. Her screen presence is truly incredible. The effortlessness with which she shifts gears when she has to be charismatic, vulnerable, or cunning is marvelous. Damon Wayans Jr. is fantastic. The softness with which he plays Adam amidst the bundle of chaos that is the rest of the cast is unexpected, thereby probably making this his best performance yet. Augustus Prew is a laughter riot. His over-the-top silliness is so fun to watch. It’s highly likely that Joel Courtney is the best actor in the cast because he always stays in the background, and as soon as he speaks, he totally steals the scene. So, don’t be fooled by his goofiness. Surprisingly enough (this is largely because I don’t like influencers taking on acting roles), Liza Koshy is brilliant. She makes a late entry, but she fits right in. The way she delivers that spleen-selling line is perfect. Tom Ellis is there to look beautiful and exude arrogance (thereby breaking his character’s “humane” facade), and he does exactly that. All the supporting actors—Ego Nwodim, Sterling Jonatán Williams, Marin Hinkle, and Jerry Kernion—are fabulous. Minimum screen time, maximum impact.

There’s this popular notion that nobody watches modern rom-coms for the plot or the filmmaking. Maybe there is some truth to it because recently, rom-coms have been incredibly horrible and really profitable, especially all the stuff that has been released on OTT platforms. But a movie like Players is proof that a rom-com can have personality, dynamic filmmaking, a likable cast, and a message that can resonate with people regardless of their relationship status. In addition to that, and it’s possible that this isn’t the point of the film, it’s heartening to see journalism being portrayed as a profession that has passionate people in it again, especially in a day and age where it’s being overtaken by corporate idiots and A.I. Even though I know diddlysquat about baseball, hockey, or MMA, seeing Whit and Trish go out of their way to show why an individual’s personal history with a subject counts actually touched me and reinvigorated my love for the work that I do on a daily basis. Now, if that doesn’t sound like a recommendation, I don’t know what will.


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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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