My unsolicited advice? Don’t watch the trailer, which is kind of disjointed and misleading. It’s much better just to plunge straight into watching Getting to Know You, which is a surprisingly honest, gentle, bittersweet, and funny look at what happens over the course of one weekend when two people meet at a hotel in a small town in Ontario.
Luke (Rupert Perry-Jones) left the small town where he grew up years ago with no thought of ever returning. But years have gone by and he’s nostalgic for his teenage girlfriend Kayla (Rachel Blanchard), so he decides to attend their high school reunion, apologize for running off all those years ago, pledge his undying love to her, and carry her off to New York where they will live together in bliss. It does not go as planned. (It’s also a pretty terrible idea in general. Like, Google exists mostly so we can stalk exes, which I guess he tried to do, but he did a piss poor job of it.) We first meet him as he arrives back at the hotel, a colorful plastic lei still around his neck, the sting of rejection still burning. At the unattended front desk he meets Abby (Natasha Little) who has just flown in from London to attend her estranged brother’s funeral and close up his house. They stand next to each other, listening awkwardly as two of the hotel staff have very energetic sex in the office just behind the desk. They make jokes as they wait for them to finish, exchange pointed looks when the receptionist finally emerges to help them, go their separate ways, and then reunite in the also very understaffed restaurant. No one is having sex there, but all the employees are too caught up in their own problems to do silly things like cook or serve food. The chef storms off after having a fight with his girlfriend (the front desk receptionist), who just a short while ago was very much boinking another man in the office. (The poor service and employee soap opera is a running joke.)
Abby and Luke give up on getting any food, scrounge what they can from the vending machine, and eat in Luke’s hotel room. Before they enter his room he assures her that he’s “a gentleman,” which very much gives me the creeps, but I do think in this case he means well, but also nope, please don’t say that. It gives me the same heebie jeebies as when men call women’s underwear “panties.” Anyway, they sit and talk about their childhoods, their regrets, and what brought them both to be in small-town Ontario. What they carefully don’t talk about very much is Abby’s children or her marriage, which is clearly strained at the moment. Their conversation feels natural and honest in that way that people who connect, but don’t expect to see each other again, bare their souls. Often, in slow moving movies that are focused on personal connection, the conversations feel like they were written by someone who really wants you to know how smart they are and how many esoteric texts they have read (or at least can quote). All well and good if that’s what you’re looking for, but I was not, and so was relieved that Joan Carr-Wiggin, the writer and director, makes Abby and Luke’s conversation genuinely feel like two people getting to know each other.
Then, while Abby is using the bathroom, Luke’s long lost love Kayla—who is now blotto drunk—shows up ready to have sex with Luke, leave her husband and two kids, and run away to live with him in New York City. Thinking that Luke is finally getting what he wants, Abby quietly sneaks out of the room without being noticed. But, seeing Kayla with fresh eyes (and with the knowledge that she’s married with children), Luke is less than enthusiastic. Possibly, he’s also started to have some sparkly sorts of feelings for Abby (who is also married with two kids). Kayla, on the other hand, has zero doubts. It seems that Luke’s impassioned speech, coupled with copious amounts of alcohol and a healthy dose of nostalgia for all the sex they used have, made her realize how stuck she feels in her life, and how much she misses feeling sexual and free. It’s a razor-thin line that Rachel Blanchard walks in her portrayal of Kayla to make her confident, raunchy, and funny, but still entirely likeable and intelligent. You know what I mean? So often the drunk and horny woman character ends up looking like misogynistic stereotype of desperation and sexual assault, but Blanchard’s controlled performance makes Kayla bawdy, hilarious, tender, and sympathetic. As she launches herself at Luke, wrapping her arms around him, pushing him down on the bed, smacking him across the face with her lei (not a euphemism), and unbuttoning his shirt, she keeps up a steady stream of conversation. When Luke points out that she can’t just leave her two kids, she scoffs “What? You think those kids even like me?!?” Seeing the remnants of Abby and Luke’s dinner and drinks she asks excitedly, “You drink wine and beer?!? I can tell you’re from New York City.” First mispronouncing condominium as condom, she asks him where he lives and then breathlessly asks, “Does it have a garbage shoot? Because,” she groans as she runs her fingers through his hair. “I. Have. Always. Wanted a garbage shoot.”
Desperate to escape the uncomfortable situation that is entirely of his own making—You just show up in town again making proclamations of undying love, turn someone’s entire world upside down, and then get squeamish when they come to your hotel room, which you expressly asked them to do?!?—Luke pretends like he’s going to get some ice and runs to Abby’s room to beg for her help. (I’m willing to allow this because it works in the movie, but, honestly? If this were real life I certainly hope Abby would tell him to piss off and fix his own mess. The woman just flew in from London where she left a husband and two kids. And then she ate vending machine food for dinner? I just want her to put on pajamas and get some fucking sleep. But, again, I see how it works in this context and I’m able to (mostly) suspend my…whatever it is that I’m feeling.) In order to get rid of Kayla she happily agrees to pretend to be his wife who has just flown into town. Kayla doesn’t give up easily, though, first recounting Luke’s speech, then telling Abby that she’s “not giving him up, bitch,” and finally, looking at Luke and imploring that she just wants “to be free,” which is absolutely heartbreaking. Honestly, I would watch a movie about Kayla’s story and how she eventually figures out how to live a fulfilling and honest life that doesn’t involve relying on the memories of her high school self and teenage sex. Anyway, together Abby and Luke manage to get Kayla home where they have an awkward run in with Kayla’s husband before finally extricating themselves.
Of course, we’ve all seen this formula many times before where two people—lonely and restless in their current lives—start off pretending to be in a relationship and end up developing real feelings. But this movie takes that broad conceit and makes it smaller, quieter, and more intimate. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with other rom-coms that focus on the jokes, the misunderstandings, and the effort it takes to pull off that kind of subterfuge, but there is also a place for this kind of movie that uses that trope as a way to basically watch two people talk and develop some complicated feelings. Luke and Abby spend the rest of the weekend finding reasons to stay together. They go to her brother’s funeral, clean out his house, run into any number of Luke’s high school friends (who are all extremely hyped to see him). Mostly, they both escape and process their own lives by immersing themselves in this newfound intimacy with a person who really sees and hears them. Their chemistry is subdued, but still very much there. Think of ash-covered coals where you can’t see the heat but if you touched them you would get a blistering burn, and you’ll be in the right ballpark.
Look, I fully admit that when I started this movie I expected that it would feel too long and slow—or like it was trying too hard—but instead I found Luke and Abby’s restrained longing and quiet, deeply intimate conversations about loneliness, regret, loss, love, and longing, punctuated by moments of brasher humor, pretty damn captivating. Though, in writing this review, I’ve realized that maybe I don’t entirely like Luke and find him perhaps a little problematic, but maybe those underlying antagonistic feelings helped keep me engaged. So, if you’re looking for a gentle movie that will leave you feeling a comfortable kind of melancholy, and also make you laugh some along the way, maybe try getting to know this one. (Sorry—but also not—for that ending.)