‘Look Both Ways’: It’s two fun romcoms in one as Netflix film shows a pair of paths for heroine
Utterly endearing Lili Reinhart plays a contented mom in one scenario and an ambitious dreamer in the other.
We begin our discussion of the low-key and warmhearted charmer “Look Both Ways” by remembering the 2000 romantic fantasy-comedy “The Family Man,” with Nicolas Cage as wealthy Manhattan bachelor Jack Campbell, who wakes up one Christmas morning and finds he’s living in suburban New Jersey with a wife and two kids. It’s a wonderful life in reverse!
When Jack returns to his previous life, that means the life he knew in New Jersey, including his two adorable kids … POOF, all gone. It’s unsettling.
All right all right all right, we’re back in the present and “Look Both Ways,” which is in the same vein as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Family Man” and the Gwyneth Paltrow parallel-lives film “Sliding Doors,” as we follow Lili Reinhart’s Natalie through two possible life paths—and one of those roads includes Natalie having an adorable girl. Oh geez, is this movie going to paint itself into a corner à la “The Family Man,” with the child disappearing into the ether at the end of the story?
Netflix presents a film directed by Wanuri Kahiu and written by April Prosser. No MPAA rating. Running time: 111 minutes. Available now on Netflix.
Let’s just say screenwriter April Prosser and director Wanuri Kahiu find a rather elegant way to resolve this dilemma, and I’ll leave it to you to discover how it’s done. Fueled by the smart and knowing script, the sure-handed direction and a true star performance by Reinhart, “Look Both Ways” is a comfort-viewing experience with authentic and likable characters. We’ve all had those Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken” moments in our lives, when one decision would have changed everything forever, and it’s fascinating to see how Reinhart’s Natalie would have had vastly different and yet equally believable experiences depending on which road she traveled.
“Look Both Ways” kicks off late in the senior year of college for Reinhart’s Natalie, who is dying to finish school and head to Los Angeles with her BFF Cara (Aisha Dee)where she’ll pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an animator. On a whim one night, Natalie hooks up with her platonic buddy Gabe (Danny Ramirez)—and a few weeks later, on graduation night, Natalie finds herself praying to the porcelain god in the bathroom. Is it food poisoning, or is Natalie pregnant? Cara runs to the drugstore and comes back with an armload of home pregnancy tests, and a moment later, Natalie finds out she’s not pregnant, and she celebrates with Cara before they return to the party. Soon they’ll be off to L.A.!
Oh wait. Turns out Natalie IS pregnant, and she decides to keep the baby, which means she’ll move back home with her parents in Austin, Texas, put her career dreams on hold and become a single mother.
This is when “Look Both Ways” splits into two movies. In one story, Natalie goes to Los Angeles with Cara, has a meet-cute with a hunky and sensitive aspiring producer named Jake (David Corenswet) and finds work in a studio as an assistant to her idol Lucy (Nia Long), a pioneering animator. In the other version, Natalie moves in with her initially stunned but eventually loving and supportive parents Rick and Tina (Luke Wilson and Andrea Savage, terrific together), while Gabe sets up in a nearby apartment and proves himself to be a solid and responsible guywho is a good father and would marry Natalie if she’d just give him a chance.
With crisp editing shifting us from one reality to the other in chronological fashion, Natalie has an equal number of triumphs and setbacks in both worlds. There are no real villains in “Look Both Ways” (just about everyone is SO NICE) and no huge tragedies in either setting; we just get two equally involving and equally realistic stories, and it’s a credit to the writing and the performances that we’re not sure which path we’d like best for Natalie. We’re getting two romcoms for the price of one here, with Lili Reinhart doing lovely work and reminding me more than a little of the late and wonderful Brittany Murphy with her magnetic, slightly goofy, utterly endearing screen presence. Either way you look at it, this is a keeper.