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February 14, 2024 / Netflix

Starring: Gina Rodriguez, Damon Wayans Jr., Tom Ellis, Joel Courtney, Liza Koshy

Directed By: Trish Sie

New York sportswriter Mack (Gina Rodriguez) has spent years devising successful hook-up “plays” with best friend Adam (Damon Wayans Jr.) and their crew. While it has led to countless one-night stands over the years, following their playbook comes with a strict set of ground rules — chief among them: you can’t build a relationship from a play. When Mack unexpectedly falls for her latest target, charming war correspondent Nick (Tom Ellis), she begins to rethink the game entirely. As the lines between work, fun, friendship, and romance begin to blur, Mack must learn what it takes to go from simply scoring to playing for keeps.

Written By Darren

Rating 3 out of 5

Players hits the right notes thanks to a confident and utterly charming lead performance from Gina Rodriguez, even if the film itself struggles to truly embrace the tropes of the romantic comedy genre.

A common plot thread of the romantic comedy genre involves individuals creating elaborate plans to make an eligible, attractive and catch worthy individual fall in love with them, and that is the idea that forms the basis of Netflix’s latest romantic comedy Players. The film follows Mack, a sports reporter portrayed by Gina Rodriguez, who has an extensive playbook of plans to secure hookups for her and her friends. But after falling for one of her hookups Nick, a successful journalist and writer portrayed by Tom Ellis, Mack and her friends have to rework their plays so that Mack is not merely just scoring with Nick but playing for keeps. Having seen countless romantic comedies, it’s very evident the narrative direction the film is going to take with Mack and Nick’s relationship and that Mack’s best friend Adam is secretly harbouring feelings for her, but it’s a fun ride getting to that conclusion. Whit Anderson’s screenplay has some truly hilarious moments throughout the film that gives the viewer exactly what they want from a romantic comedy, even if the romantic connection between Mack and Nick is completely missing. It’s not fatal to the film as it’s clear to the viewer that they are not endgame material by any means, but it would have helped invest the audience in Mack’s story if there had been more of a romantic spark between Mack and Nick which would have made the first two acts of the film more enjoyable.

Where the screenplay stumbles is with the archetype of the romantic comedy and the expected beats viewers expect from the film. Anderson is so hyper focused on delivering these traditional plot points; the meet cute, the sudden realization that Mack has always been in love with her best friend, and many more, that he forgets to embrace these moments. It feels like a paint by numbers romantic comedy more concerned with checking all the boxes rather than allowing these grand romantic moments to leap off the screen and take the audience on the lush, enchanting and magical journey that the genre is known for. It’s too bad as the film has the right basis and for the most part a great cast that could make this story come to life, but Anderson is so stuck in the weeds that he misses creating the experience that the audience wants.

No matter how you feel about the film’s story which is not without its weaknesses, you can’t deny the brilliance of Rodriguez’s performance in Players. Effortlessly carrying the entire film firmly on her shoulders, Rodriguez is radiant every second she is on screen. As Mack, Rodriguez has a confidence that instantly brings her character to life, allowing the audience to see the genius in her plays as she helps her friend score hookups and in her own pursuit of Nick. Never missing a comedic beat, Rodriguez will have you laughing from start to finish while instilling her character with a heart that instantly bonds you to Mack and invests you in her character’s happiness. It’s a dazzling performance that begs the question: why has Rodriguez not been the lead in more romantic comedies? Because she is the perfect romantic comedy lead with wonderful comedic timing, true heart and an undeniable charm that is everything the genre requires.

Supporting Rodriguez is a good supporting cast filling out the required character types of the romantic comedy genre. Damon Wayans Jr. is great as Adam, having some terribly funny moments and his chemistry is off the charts with Rodriguez. Liza Koshy nearly runs away with the entire film as Ashley, landing the most outlandish and hilarious jokes of the entire film that will leave you gasping for air due to uncontrollable laughter; while Augustus Prew and Joel Courtney nicely round out Mack’s friend group, both of whom fill out their roles nicely. The only weak link is Ellis as Nick, largely because of the lack of chemistry between himself and Rodriguez. Sure, Ellis looks the part but he lacks any identity in the film, which while making him a little dull to watch for the first two acts, actually works in his favour in the final act when his character shows his true colours.

Romantic comedies need a strong lead to not only invest the audience in the film’s central romance, but to bring all the charm, laughter and heartbreak to the film. And Gina Rodriguez more than fulfills that requirement with an excellent lead performance that easily makes up for many of Players’ shortcomings in other aspects of the film, making for a decent watch this Valentine’s Day. Even with the narrative hiccups of a lacklustre male love interest and a screenplay that feels more invested in performing every hallmark of the romantic comedy genre rather than embracing and creating a whimsical experience for viewers, Gina Rodriguez single handedly makes Players worth a watch and with a strong supporting cast, it becomes a decent romantic comedy for a one time watch.

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