Netflix movies, especially in recent years, tend to fall into one of two categories: They’re either high-budget films where big-name directors are given freedom that other studios don’t offer, or they’re lower-budget films that offer up-and-coming actors and filmmakers a chance to show off their skills to try to move up in the world of Hollywood.
The new film Look Both Ways falls firmly the latter category. It follows Natalie (Lili Reinhart), who’s about to graduate from UT Austin when, in a fit of passion over what the future holds, she sleeps with her good friend Gabe (Danny Ramirez). Cut to a few weeks later, and Natalie is sick at a graduation party. Her best friend Cara (Aisha Dee) brings her a few pregnancy tests just in case her upset stomach is more than bad sushi.
The film then splits into two scenarios: One in which Natalie is pregnant, and one in which she isn’t. In the former, her plans to become an animator and Gabe’s plans to tour with his band are upended as they muddle through co-parenting. In the latter, she moves to L.A. with Cara to pursue her dream, a life in which she meets Jake (David Corenswet) and lands a job as an assistant to Lucy Galloway (Nia Long).
Directed by Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu and written by first-time screenwriter April Prosser, the film is a lightweight-yet-enjoyable update of the concept that 1998’s Sliding Doors popularized. The “what if?” idea is an objectively solid one, as anyone could envision their life taking a different path if they made a different decision or had something unexpected happen to them.
The story never goes too deep on any of its relationships, including Natalie’s bond with her parents (Andrea Savage and Luke Wilson), but since it’s clear from the start that the film will remain at surface level, it’s hard to be mad about it. Her life in L.A. starts off as an idealized one, but anyone who’s seen their fair share of movies knows that things will even out as the story goes along.
One unexpected plus of the film is that they don’t treat the audience like idiots. The constant switching back-and-forth between the two Natalies gets confusing at times, especially after pregnant Natalie has her baby. However, Kahiu and Prosser trust the audience to keep the two stories straight, which pays off when they intersect in a way toward the end of the film.
Reinhart, who’s made her name starring as Betty Cooper on The CW’s Riverdale, makes for an appealing lead. The two versions of Natalie are pretty similar, aside from their levels of stress, but she differentiates them just enough to make it work. Ramirez does well as the semi-romantic lead, but it would have been nice if he had more to do. And Savage, whose show I’m Sorry was unfairly cut short, deserves every role she can get.
No one will ever confuse Look Both Ways for great cinema, but for an escapist film on your designated movie night, you could do a lot worse. The story is light and breezy and the actors are fun to watch, and sometimes that’s all you really need from a streaming movie.
Look Both Ways is now streaming on Netflix.