If you are anything like me and your early teen years also featured one too many hours playing Episode (and subsequently contemplating your sanity), the premise of Choose Love (2023) would likely entice you. After venturing into the interactive film space with titles such as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018), You vs. Wild (2019), and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend (2020), Netflix has finally applied the interactive format to a romantic comedy with Choose Love. The film requires you to put your matchmaking expertise to the test by helping Cami Conway (Laura Marano), a 20-something audio engineer with a dead-end job, a supposedly dead-end relationship, and a startling affinity for leather skirts, find the man of her dreams. Is Cami’s dream man her social activist high school sweetheart, Jack Menna (Jordi Webber)? Is he the snarky, carefree, bleach-blond British rockstar Rex Galier (Avan Jogia)? Or, perhaps, is he the man standing right in front of her—Paul Schwartz (Scott Michael Foster), her boyfriend of three years who is eager to take their relationship to the next level? For better or worse, the choice is yours as to which man will come out on top.
Being the courteous, curious love doctor that you are, you bite. You press play, hopeful that Choose Love will deliver on the basic promise of the dating simulator genre: supplying you with a drama-filled, damn good time. Because, let’s face it—we don’t start watching a movie like Choose Love expecting to give it a stellar, five-star review on our Letterboxd accounts. Rather, we readily embrace a certain level of shallowness from this kind of media, because, when created with a healthy dose of self-awareness, “so bad it’s good” films can be a perfect recipe for the unapologetic hilarity we all crave every now and then.
Watching a film that doesn’t require too much brain power can be supremely comforting, and that comfort is what we expect as an audience in exchange for our suspension of disbelief and critical judgment. However, even when appropriately calibrating our expectations, Choose Love still frequently struggles to meet the lowest standard of entertainment necessary to justify the watch. Regardless of the decisions you make, Choose Love presents you with a lukewarm story, barely one-dimensional characters, and unsatisfying conclusions at every turn.
Choose Love is painfully boring. Admittedly, regarding choose-your-own-adventure narratives, I have a tendency to play it safe. When presented with a precarious, potentially feather-ruffling choice, I try to take the path of least resistance and step on the fewest toes possible. That being said, even I was shocked by the lack of compelling, pot-stirring narrative options within this interactive movie.
One scene that exemplifies my prevailing boredom is when Cami and Rex are playing a game of truth or dare on his private jet. Now, the truth or dare scene is an iconic rom-com convention ripe with juicy narrative potential, especially when the two potential lovers share close quarters while playing. Add the thrill of putting us in the driver’s seat, and it seems like an easy formula for some entertaining content … right? Well, brace yourself, because your only options are to dare Rex to either reveal his most embarrassing tattoo (spoiler alert: it’s a heart with “Mum” written on it. Scandalous!) or to perform a half-hearted rendition of Swan Lake complete with a makeshift napkin tutu. I truly wish I was joking. Worse yet, if you sidestep the “truth” option and opt for Cami to complete a dare instead, Rex dares you to …. again, brace yourself … ask the flight attendant for the estimated time of arrival and then pretend to not understand the concept of time. What?
After playing through each of these truly bleak options, I honestly wish the writers had just stuck to the classic “I dare you to kiss me” line and left it at that. Within this genre you can get away with a lot—cheesy dialogue, one-trick-pony protagonists, unrealistic scenarios, all-too-predictable scenarios—but only if the story remains entertaining enough. Failure to meet this one requirement means that everything crumbles in on itself. Unfortunately, that is the case here.
Apart from this cringeworthy sequence, even larger romantic choices feel similarly underwhelming and unfulfilling because we are not given adequate time to connect to any of these characters. Having a bland lead isn’t great, but since Cami is supposed to be the viewer’s self-insert, her lack of personality is potentially forgivable. However, by prematurely presenting us with Cami’s pivotal romantic choice without providing sufficient opportunities to get to know (much less build tangible chemistry with) Jack, Paul, and Rex, Choose Love squashes all of its own fun before even getting off the ground.
Even if you genuinely like the guy you end up picking, there isn’t a single ending that feels conclusive or complete. The film abruptly wraps up with a quick kiss and a line of dialogue that acts as a sort of wink to the camera, prompting you to replay the film and make different decisions rather than presenting you with a satisfying conclusion that rewards you for your decisiveness. When you receive a half-baked ending on your first attempt, you will likely be inclined to keep replaying because you assume you got one of the bad endings. But once you realize that all the conclusions are similarly blasé, that curiosity morphs into frustration with the project as a whole. You realize the thrill of the interactive gimmick is truly the only intriguing element the story has to offer—and even that schtick is miserably underutilized.
Another oddity of Choose Love’s construction is its protagonist’s relationship status. Rather than following a woman who is single and ready to mingle, Cami is in a serious, long-term relationship throughout the majority of the film, presenting cheating-averse viewers with a moral dilemma that really kills the lighthearted mood.
Even if you can stomach the infidelity, Choose Love does a terrible job at selling Cami’s relationship with “boring” Paul as unappealing in the first place—stacked against Rex and Jack, he is clearly the best catch. Perhaps I am a little bit biased (see Scott Michael Foster’s swoon-worthy performance as Nathaniel Plimpton III in the criminally underrated musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), but even after critically weighing all of the options, I remain firm in my stance. Paul is financially stable, good with kids, dashing, unafraid of commitment, loves a good old-fashioned escape room, and is madly in love with Cami. I’m supposed to not want to be with this guy? Choose Love flopped as a movie in many respects, but trying to convince me that Paul was an undesirable option was perhaps its biggest failure.
When all is said and done, my sadness surrounding Choose Love boils down to its disappointing waste of a brilliant premise. Bringing a choose-your-own-adventure rom-com to Netflix is a compelling idea, but if the film wasn’t going to be sincere and tactful, it should have at least been wildly unhinged enough to keep you from noticing its exceptionally low quality. The fact that the filmmakers achieved neither of these tones and instead consistently opted for the laziest, blandest storylines made the watch feel utterly pointless.
Nevertheless, I would love for Netflix to get a second shot at doing this type of film right, hopefully by going down one of two paths: either making an embarrassingly entertaining movie with objectively insane choices and scenarios, or creating a rom-com with lovable, complex characters and rich comedy—one that you can actually get legitimately invested in. Personally, I would prefer the latter. Amid a catalog cluttered with titles like The Kissing Booth (2018) and He’s All That (2021) which capitalize on our obsession with cringe, why not switch it up and create something Netflix viewers can turn on without feeling the need to label it a guilty pleasure? In the meantime, however, instead of Choose Love, I would probably suggest choosing another way to spend your time.