Warning: Spoilers for Meet Cute (and The Flight Attendant) ahead.
Directed by Alex Lehmann and written by Noga Pnueli, the unique take on time-loops stars Cuoco as Sheila and Pete Davidson as her (almost) perfect man Gary. When a depressed Sheila stumbles on a tanning bed time machine in the back of a nail salon, she uses it to repeatedly revisit the perfect night: her first date with Gary. Existing in a euphoric bubble seems like a flawless plan, but as Sheila’s fears, insecurities, and childhood trauma seep in and sully her safe space, her composure crumbles.
Meet Cute allows Cuoco to embrace her finely honed forte by playing yet another hot mess in distress. Though the actor is well-known for playing sweet, lighthearted, comedic characters like the popular teen Bridget in 8 Simple Rules or the sarcastic Penny on The Big Bang Theory, starring as the chaotic Cassie Bowden in HBO Max‘s thrilling dramedy The Flight Attendant in 2020 unlocked a new level of her career.
Cuoco is a wide-ranging talent, but her performances in The Flight Attendant and Meet Cute prove she’s mastered the art of playing frantic, damaged, lonely characters with big personalities and a desperate desire to improve. Few, if any, can play a hot mess better. And if you’re a fan of either title, you best check out the other.
Sheila and Cassie are so similar that while watching Meet Cute I found myself struggling to separate the two. Both characters are impulsive fast talkers who are bad with boundaries, have complicated relationships with their parents, and are haunted by the past. They’re self-deprecating and self-sabotaging at times, and they each deliver dramatic, award-worthy outbursts. When Gary’s Sheila travels back in time to kill her other self, the Cuoco-on-Cuoco showdown cements the Flight Attendant comparison. Fans of the HBO Max thriller know that when times get tough, Cassie retreats to her mind palace and mentally manifests other versions of herself. In Season 2, we saw Cuoco play four different Cassies, one more turbulent than the other. Acting as your own scene partner is no easy feat, but Cuoco knows how to extract individual components of a multifaceted character and create fresh personas without losing sight of the original.
The Flight Attendant finds Cuoco playing a struggling alcoholic who’s constantly caught up in crimes and fighting to prove her innocence. In the Emmy-nominated role, Cuoco successfully embodies a perpetually flustered, introspective, pained woman — one who longs to change but repeatedly succumbs to bad habits. Cuoco’s emotional spirals paint believable pictures of grief, PTSD, and addiction. And though Cassie deals with much higher stakes than Sheila, the two share the same messy psyche.
There comes a time in Meet Cute when the 24-hour time loop starts to wear on Sheila. She loses her cool at dinner and gives off Big Cassie Energy in her rant. “I get it. This night? This is just one night to you! But for me, my entire life revolves around this one night only. NOTHING ELSE! And is it a great night? Yeah… But damn it Gary, even a perfectly cooked steak starts to taste like SHIT when you eat it ALL DAY EVERY DAY! You know?!” Sheila screams with fury while basking in the soothing glow of colorful string lights. A few minutes later, Cuoco delivers the line, “Love, huh? What a muddy sinking swamp shit fire dumpster” before dubbing Sheila’s life “consistent shit!”
These types of over-the-top explosions, sprinkled throughout Meet Cute and The Flight Attendant, are so impassioned and laced with wit that they border on funny. From expressive eyes to the gift of zippy gab, Cuoco has an arsenal of secret weapons that help her nail these complex, thoroughly entertaining roles. But ultimately, her ability to seamlessly oscillate between comedy and drama is what makes her portrayals of self-aware hot messes so effective.
Just as Sheila calls herself “the conductor of the Crazy Train,” Cuoco is the conductor of the Hot Mess Express. Sure, a hot mess can be hard to watch at times, but whenever Cuoco takes on the role I’ll be the one screaming, “All aboard, baby!”
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