Fresh: A Spineless Laugh, by David Bax
Maybe the biggest reason that Mimi Cave’s Fresh falls so short of being the movie it wants to be is how sure it is that it’s funny. With the exception of a good opening scene, in which Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) goes on a first date that goes poorly in a way that we come to realize is not that out of the ordinary, most of the movie’s attempts at comedy take the form of a sarcastic, quippy tone instead of any actual jokes. It’s like when someone replies to another person’s clever remark with, “I see what you did there” and thinks they’ve risen to the established cleverness level themselves. Fresh is a whole movie of “I see what you did there.”
Like I said, that’s probably the biggest reason the movie doesn’t succeed but it’s not the only one. Noa is so vocal about being sick of dating the same lame guys that when she has a meet-cute with an actual nice man at the grocery store, it should be immediately clear to anyone with any nose for dramatic irony whatsoever that he’s bad news. But Noa blows past one red flag after another in her new relationship, culminating in accepting Steve’s (Sebastian Stan) offer to go on a weekend getaway to an undisclosed location before she even knows anything about him. She behaves like a movie character, not like a human being. The specifics of what Steve turns out to have planned (which I won’t spoil for anyone who doesn’t yet know) are admittedly unique but there’s still the sense, plotwise, that we know what’s going to happen because we’ve seen this before.
That makes Fresh the second movie already in this still young year in which Stan is very obviously the bad guy even before that’s officially revealed. Maybe a history of playing sleazeballs is the reason he and Edgar-Jones seem to have so little chemistry. But it would have made Noa’s decisions more digestible were we able to feel a spark between them.
Once Steve’s villainy is confirmed, though, Stan does start to feel like a good casting choice. Early on, Noa and her friend, Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), discuss having had their notions of love warped by too much early exposure to Disney romance. So it makes a kind of sense that Noa would fall for someone who looks like a cartoon prince.
Or perhaps a better comparison for Steve’s look is 1980s heartthrobs like Rob Lowe or Patrick Dempsey. That would fit with the character’s penchant for overproduced pop-rock ballads by the likes of Peter Cetera and Richard Marx.
But, like so much else here, those song choices feel cynical and on the nose, the movie reducing itself to something processed, snackable but not nourishing. By the time Cave gets to her most obnoxious needle drop, an orchestral cover of Radiohead’s “Exit Music (for a Film)”–the most prominent lyric of which, “We hope that you choke,” is eye-rollingly germane to the onscreen action–all I could see was how pleased Fresh seems to be with itself.