Two Night Stand comes so close to saying something insightful about dating in the digital age that the inevitable letdown is more bitter than usual. The directorial debut of Max Nichols (son of Mike Nichols) stars Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton as twentysomethings groping around in the metaphorical dark for something to hold onto, using sex as a Band-Aid in the meantime.
Megan (Tipton) is a loosely sketched woman with a pre-med degree but no job, and her general aimlessness speaks more to how she was written than to post-grad malaise. She’s a slippery, hazy character, and the more the viewer learns, the less she makes sense. Egged on by her roommate to get over her ex by getting under someone else, Megan wades into the world of online dating. Within hours, she’s at the Brooklyn apartment of Alec (Teller) for a hookup, despite weather alerts about a coming blizzard. Attempting to sneak out the following morning, and then fleeing in anger when her new lover implies that this is a regular habit of hers, Megan is faced with an all-too-plausible development: She’s completely snowed in with Alec. What follows is a wildly uneven, somewhat trite foray into contemporary gender politicking and sex.
Nichols and his screenwriter, Mark Hammer, can’t quite seem to nail down one tone; the movie’s all over the place with literal bathroom humor, twee stoner bonding, intense sex scenes, dramatic confessions, and broad rom-com jokes. None of it feels particularly real or urgent. Megan and Alec’s breakthrough comes when they decide to tell each other what men and women generally get wrong about sex; since they’ll never see each other again and don’t care about each other (and they’re still sort of baked), surely this will turn out well! Unfortunately, the soul-baring questions that Megan and Alec ponder are along the lines of, “Why do women do it with the lights off?” and, “Why do men do that dumb thing with their tongues?” As the film goes on, any moment in which the protagonists seem on the cusp of some sort of emotional growth or insight is quickly undercut.
The movie’s energy comes from Miles Teller, arguably one of the most interesting young actors in Hollywood. Alec is your typical chill Brooklyn dude with an unrealistically nice loft and a kooky bong; he could have come off as loathsome, but Teller’s offhand delivery adds a lot of charm to an underdeveloped character. Two Night Stand suffers most from bad timing. If audiences hadn’t already seen Teller’s outstanding performances in Rabbit Hole or The Spectacular Now, never mind the festival favorite Whiplash, they might be be pleasantly surprised by his role as the boyishly affable Alec, especially in contrast to Tipton’s barely there Megan. While it’s refreshing to watch characters without sky-high ambitions, the reasons both are so stunted are fairly disappointing and regressive. Who in the world plans for an MRS degree and ends up pre-med?
Two Night Stand works best when it’s just Teller and Tipton in Alec’s loft; it feels like an intimate off-Broadway play whose writers and stars are obviously talented but haven’t quite found their stride. What’s interesting is that The Spectacular Now, a movie about teenagers, manages to treat its characters with far more nuance, sensitivity, and intelligence, allowing them to be vulnerable and raw. The filmmakers behind Two Night Stand could have gone deep, or they could have stayed light and silly, but they can’t have it both ways. In the end, Megan and Alec both overstay their welcome.