"About Fate" a cute, sugar-for-brains piffle

About Fate (2022)

Predictability isn’t automatically a make-or-break downfall, especially in a frothy romantic comedy. It’s a formula we find comfort in, and it’s always about the details and the star chemistry in the journey rather than the preordained destination, but that journey better make the destination worth it. In “About Fate,” it seems the two hopeless-romantic leads have seen movies in their fictional lives that they would know how this all works. They’re either so open and desperate for love, or just blinded pawns strung along by the machinations of a strained screenplay masquerading as the magic of fate. This can be annoying, until “About Fate” manages to somehow win you over, clichés and all.

Real estate agent Margot (Emma Roberts) and lawyer Griffin (Thomas Mann) seem perfect for each other, but they don’t even know each other yet. Both of them are cat owners. Both of them live in side-by-side corporate condo neighborhoods with the same address. Both of them keep a spare key under their flower pot (which just begs for someone to break in). And both of them like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Margot is expecting her beau Kip (Lewis Tan) to pop the question, and Griffin is ready to propose to Clementine (Madelaine Petsch), a beautiful but nagging professional influencer and mattress model. Of course, both scenarios play out at the same Bennigan’s, only a couple booths away, and both scenarios don’t go as expected. Kip is actually breaking up with Margot, and Clementine gives Griffin an emphatic “yes” but wants to table the proposal for Instagram at her extravagant New Year’s Eve party. Now without a date to her type-A sister’s (Britt Robertson) wedding on New Year’s Eve of all days, what’s Margot to do? On top of it all, she is the maid of honor, so her attendance is required. Conveniently, Margot runs into Griffin outside the Bennigan's, and then after some drunken circumstances at a Russian bathhouse (don’t ask), Griffin ends up going into Margot’s house, thinking it’s his. Another convenience is that Margot’s entire family never met her ex Kip, so Griffin agrees to pretend to be Kip. Do you see where this is going? 

Wouldn’t you know it, Margot and Griffin are so right for each other because fate finds a way. Or is it dumb luck, or just screenwriting contrivance? Unless you’ve never seen a movie before, you can probably even guess the string of complications that follow. Given its convoluted setup and every hoary romantic complication, “About Fate” is so by-the-numbers and blindingly contrived that it almost feels like a parody at times. It’s not, mind you, but director Marius Vaysberg and writer Tiffany Paulsen have clearly seen their fair share of romantic comedies, including one Paulsen wrote herself and also starred Emma Roberts (2020’s “Holidate”). Since the filmmakers can't find much freshness in this formula, they do at least have a reliable cast to make the proceedings more harmlessly fluffy than irritating. 

Perhaps on her way to becoming the heiress to romantic comedies like her auntie, Emma Roberts can't help but always be radiant and engaging to watch, even as the messy, needy, perpetually late Margot. The actress is admittedly much more interesting when the characters she plays aren’t so nicey-nice and have more bite to them, but Roberts makes Margot likable enough. Thomas Mann is the quintessential nice guy next door, endearing and unthreatening without being too bland as Griffin. As a couple, Roberts and Mann do have an effortless way with each other, but they don’t really have the level of chemistry where we’re waiting in bated breath for them to kiss. A more-destined romance hints at something more interesting when Margot and Griffin encounter a meant-to-be older couple (Rose Weaver, Ricardo Pitts-Wiley), who tell their love story on a horse-drawn carriage; alas, these lovely folks don't get to stay for long.

As their temporary partners, Madelaine Petsch (TV’s “Riverdale”) brings some comic flair to Clementine, even if she remains an archetype of a horrible shrew, and Lewis Tan (2021’s “Mortal Kombat”) refreshingly takes the piss out of himself as the clueless Kip. A lively Fikile Mthwalo even elevates the role of the sex-obsessed, sharp-tongued best friend who seems employed to be a sardonic sounding board. Rounding out the pleasing but only adequately used supporting cast, Wendie Malick and Cheryl Hines can bring offbeat verve to anything, even such thankless roles as Griffin's smothering mother and Margot's brutally honest mother.

Cute enough and perhaps more sickly sweet than it is smart, “About Fate” still proves to be more charming than not in a very retro sort of way. When it wants to be, the script is more tartly amusing than expected; it’s in a one-and-done line, but there is a pretty funny “I Am Sam” joke involving a dating app photo. Generically wacky physical-comedy bits are less laugh-inducing and more eye-rolling: Margot and Griffin break into the closed bridal store to retrieve her sister’s wedding veil, and later, Griffin and Kip one-up each other at the wedding reception in martial arts (you better believe that wedding cake is in danger). One wishes the flavor didn’t feel so out of date, but you also can’t really complain about the charm of these young pros fated with making the most of a perfectly pleasant, sugar-for-brains piffle.

Grade: C +

American International Pictures released “About Fate” (100 min.) in select theaters and on digital September 9, 2022.