Synopsis: The horrors of modern dating seen through one young woman’s defiant battle to survive her new boyfriend’s unusual appetites.
Stars: Sebastian Stan, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Jojo T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Andrea Bang, Dayo Okeniyi
Director: Mimi Cave
Running Length: 114 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Right away, the woman should be wary of the man she meets at a 24-hour supermarket. Yes, he’s good-looking and charming as all get out, but no one is ever that excited about Cotton Candy grapes. To me, that would be a big reg flag, but Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is just relieved Steve (Sebastian Stan, I, Tonya) isn’t as creepy as the last dozen or so men she’s been swiping through on her dating app. This initial miscalculation is a costly error the audience is aware of because we’ve signed on to stream Fresh through Hulu, but unfortunately, it takes Noa much longer than that to wise up and see this plastic surgeon with the winning smile for what he truly is.
What is Steve? Well, I’m not sure I want to tell you that. It would most surely kill some of the thrills of Lauryn Kahn’s screenplay, which takes the pains of dating in this fast-paced tech-heavy climate and gives it a sinister twist. Directed by Mimi Cave, the opening thirty minutes of the movie goes through the familiar motions of a woman wading through a lousy date, relaying her hopelessness to her friend, and eventually finding the mysterious Mr. Right, who whisks her away for a weekend retreat. Borrowing a page out of Oscar nominee Drive My Car, the half-hour mark is also when the opening credits run. It’s no coincidence this is when the director finally cracks a frustrating mold of wry rom-com sameness and unleashes a creative edge.
It’s hard to tiptoe around Fresh’s second and third act details without spoiling the main twist but let’s say the weekend stay for Noa at Steve’s impressive complex gets extended for an indeterminate amount of time. Without any family to wonder at her whereabouts, it’s up to ride-or-die best friend Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs, in an inspired performance) to pick up on the clues her bestie is in danger and follow digitized breadcrumbs to locate the wolf that has taken Noa back to his lair. Meanwhile, as Mollie searches, Noa and Steve have more time to get to know one another. Kahn’s script allows an intriguing mix of the interplay between two strong-willing individuals grappling for the upper hand.
If it had to be so long, I’m glad we spent our time with this small core of actors. Stan is better than he’s been in any of the Marvel movies and is allowed to explore a side with more gears, giving him opportunities to make shifts into more exciting areas of his acting. After her star-making showing in Hulu’s incredibly intimate Normal People, this type of dark material must have felt like a welcome change of pace for Edgar-Jones. She fronts the cast quite nicely and creates believable friendship history with Gibbs, not to mention chemistry at the outset with Stan. As mentioned before, Gibbs is the real find here, and you’ll be glad they have more to do as the film progresses.
Eventually, Cave can’t quite justify such a long run time, and Fresh gives way to repetition that can’t be saved by any amount of shocking violence or gore. A severe finale that may satisfy some feels like an elevated overcorrection rather than the earth-bound landing point toward which the otherwise intelligent script had been leading. It’s not exactly a first date kind of movie, but if you and your significant other enjoy something that’s a little on the wild side aiming for achievement at a higher level, Fresh is pound for pound a steal of a deal.