Laura Marano on 'The Perfect Date's' Social Media Commentary, How Netflix Film Upends Rom-Com Tropes

Courtesy of Netflix

The actress talks to The Hollywood Reporter about how the film centered around a dating app that turns co-star Noah Centineo's character into a stand-in boyfriend, explores the difference between "surface" appeal and "substantial" connections.

[The following story contains spoilers from The Perfect Date.]

Netflix has released yet another romantic comedy in The Perfect Date, starring the streamer's genre star Noah Centineo. But female lead Laura Marano tells The Hollywood Reporter that the film takes rom-com stereotypes and "completely turns them on their head."

The movie follows high-school student and Ivy League hopeful Brooks (Noah Centineo), who is hired to escort Celia (Marano) to a school dance. After a successful date, Brooks launches a dating app that sells himself as a stand-in date. His clients can customize him into their ideal boyfriend, which leads him to question who he really is and what he wants for his future.

While Celia is initially hesitant about her arrangement with Brooks, she eventually hires him for a second date in an attempt to make her crush jealous. Meanwhile, Brooks jumps at the opportunity to attend a party with Celia at his crush Shelby's (Camila Mendes) house. As the two become closer to their crushes, they plan a very public fight that will lead to their fake breakup.

Marano spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the social commentary behind Brooks' dating app, the pressure to attend an Ivy League school and her favorite scenes in The Perfect Date.

Can you tell me a little bit about Celia?

Celia Lieberman, I love her so much. She is just this badass. She doesn't like to follow the status quo or anyone's thoughts of what a person should be. She has no problem putting every person in the movie into their place and reminds them of that fact. She has way more chutzpah than most people.

Celia first meets Brooks when her parents pay him to escort her to a school dance. She clearly doesn't want to go, so why do you think she agrees to go on the arranged date?

That's actually a really interesting question because I remember playing it and I was like, "Why does she go and change her mind and actually go on the date?" I think that she is someone, even if she doesn't take anyone's bullshit, she's still respectful and I feel like she realizes that Brooks is being polite and pretty nice. I think that definitely had a lot to do with it. He's not the typical guy she's used to, where the guys from her school are a little bit more of jerks that don't listen. Brooks is definitely more respectful and a listener, so that kind of convinces her. But going to the dance is definitely not something she wants to do.

The main reason Brooks creates the app is so that he can afford to go to an Ivy League school. Meanwhile, Celia has the resources to attend an expensive school but instead chooses to attend a public university. How do you think Brooks and Celia's different socioeconomic statuses play into their dynamic?

It kind of makes you think about human nature and how we have the mentality that the grass is always greener. I think they're similar in the way where both of them kind of yearn for something that they didn't grow up with. I think for Celia, the question is if she is yearning for something different just because she wants to go against the status quo or if she is yearning for something different because she knows that something cheaper doesn't necessarily mean it's less substantial than something expensive. I think she switches on and off about what her motivation is for her thinking, but there is a level that they connect on about how they yearn for things that they didn't grow up with. The grass is always greener and that's true of all of us, right?

The film, which details Brooks' aspirations to attend an elite school, is timely with the college admissions scandal. What do you hope viewers take away from the film in terms of how expensive these elite schools are? Do you think that this need to go to a prestigious school will resonate with young viewers?

It's hard to make too much of a comparison. I think one of the things that is so big about the college admissions scandal — at least what I know about it — is that it involves money, but it also involves people using their celebrity, which is not something we really touch on in the film. I think overall Brooks' experience and the stress of getting into an elite or Ivy League college is related to the idea that sometimes people only want to go to prestigious schools because on the surface they seem to be better colleges than other ones. Not to get incredibly cheesy, but it goes into not judging a book by its cover. Judging is something we do on a daily basis with social media, but we shouldn't judge something because everyone else says it's substantial or better than other things. You have to use your own experiences, your own feelings and your own research to come up with those conclusions. Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of us do that anymore. I think we do let other people's comparisons, judgments and thoughts influence what our judgments and thoughts are.

Dating apps are a big part of modern dating. Do you think the use of Brooks' dating app is simply used as a narrative tool to move the story along, or do you think it also acts as a form of social commentary on what modern dating is like?

I think it's social commentary, for sure. I wouldn’t necessarily compare the app itself to the traditional dating apps that are around now. If anything, I would compare it to the idea of social media in general. As a society, we're so wrapped up and obsessive about being someone that we think people want, whether that's getting more likes on something or getting more attention. The app is literally that mentality of Brooks basically telling anyone that uses the app that he will be anyone that they want and the whole thought is, "Well, does that actually mean substance? Does that actually mean something real and something true and something meaningful?" Obviously it's a great narrative tool, but I really hope people look at it and think about it from a social commentary standpoint.

Celia is introduced as Brooks' first client and the two eventually become friends. Was there a certain scene or moment when you think the two solidify their friendship or was their relationship more gradual?

It definitely does become gradual. By the end of their first "date" when Brooks gets hired, it actually doesn't end very well. Celia's still huffing and huffing and still pretty annoyed with the whole night, but I think with that night in particular they do have a good time, and she thinks about it and reflects over it more, and she eventually calls him for his services again to potentially make her actual crush jealous. I think there is a level where she does enjoy his presence, and they do start their friendship on a pretty substantial level on that fake date, but then it really gets solidified during Shelby's party.

There's a scene when Celia stands up to her parents and tells them that she doesn't want to bring a date to the second school formal. What do you think that scene says about her growth throughout the film?

For me, what was so fun about playing Celia is that her character arc has so many subtleties and so many different, minute aspects of it. What's important about Celia is that she is exactly what Brooks says about her in the fight scene because that's literally what she tells Brooks about herself. She does care what people think but pretends like she doesn't care at all. By the time she gets to that second dance, she realizes that she's going to go into a situation where people are going to think what they're going to think and she's really going to try to find peace with it. This is obviously coming after the big breakup scene, which took place in front of people that go to her school and they're going to be at that dance, so she very easily could have not gone and rubbed it off as like, "This is something I don’t really care about. I don't care about what people think. I don't have to go to a dance because that's so not like me." But instead, she goes to the dance for herself and for the idea that, "Yeah, people are going to think certain things and I know I'm going to care a little bit, but I'm gonna make peace with that." Which I think is really important.

Was there a specific scene that stuck out to you as particularly memorable to film?

The breakup scene was one of the last scenes we filmed in the movie. I truly was really sad because the experience was ending and you get so close to everyone. You become like a family. I remember just being in a really bad mood because I was sad that it was ending and the scene was obviously meant to have some sadness and a layer of being upset. I was actually kind of glad that we have that because the emotion was there, but I was also a little bummed because it was the last day and you want to end it with a hip-hip-hooray situation. My other favorite moment was filming the actual last scene of the movie, which is the dancing scene. We had such a good time. Noah was actually pretty sick. Everyone was getting sick. We all got so sick on the movie, but we were laughing and we were all eating so unhealthily. I don't know what it was. I think Noah kept eating Rice Krispies. It was kind of hilarious, so we were all on a sugar high and it was really fun.

How is The Perfect Date different than other teenage romantic comedies?

The Perfect Date is different because it takes all these stereotypes and archetypes in rom-coms and completely turns them on their head. For me, that's one of my favorite aspects. Celia's the one who makes the grand romantic gesture. We don’t have our two main characters realize they like each other because they're jealous. If anything, both of them are fairly supportive of the other one's love interest. It's more that they realize that it's not a substantial thing with that other person. It's more substantial between the two of them. I think the movie has a lot of things that really turn everything on its head.

What is the one lesson you want viewers to take away from The Perfect Date?

I think it's to stay true to yourself and don't let other people's opinions influence what you think is best for yourself because the moment you do that, you actually stop living life to the fullest and stop living life in a way that makes you feel good and makes you feel happy about what's happening.