Gabrielle Union and Keith Powers Charm in Fashion-Forward Netflix Swooner, 'The Perfect Find' Edited by Paul Millspaugh, ACE
June 20, 2023

Written by Lisa Kennedy, Variety

Fashionista Jenna Jones (Gabrielle Union) took quite the tumble from her position in New York’s world of style. In “The Perfect Find” — Netflix’s visually vibrant, cinema-loving, if not quite perfect, rom-com — her professional and romantic plummet is documented in opening credits that cleverly use an animated collage to relate her story.

So, when we meet Jenna in person ,she’s without a job, and her man (D.B. Woodside) of 10 years has moved on … or so it seems. The 40-year-old is sporting baggy sweats, and not because she’s headed to the gym. She’s been living in her parents’ home licking her wounds, for a year, when her mother calls her out on it. The scene between mother (Janet Hubert) and grown-ass daughter is amusing and promising. As are the musical and visual choices director Numa Perrier makes that evoke Old Hollywood in a film with characters decidedly not Old Hollywood.

Jenna heads back to the city, finds an apartment in Manhattan (clearly, she knows how to save). In short order, she gets a job at a fashion magazine and site that’s losing its hold on subscribers, hooks up with best friends Billie (Aisha Hinds) and Elodie (Alani “La La” Anthony), and mildly trysts with a young stranger at a party. He’s so dreamy, she runs away like Cinderella on the clock, only to meet him officially the next day at her new job at Darzine magazine.

Eric (Keith Powers) turns out to be the son of Jenna’s imperious boss, Darcy (Gina Torres). We already know the media mogul and Jenna have a history — one that required Jenna to nearly beg for the opportunity to get back into fashion. Union and Torres make the pair’s prickly exchanges arch if familiar fun.

Darcy, flanked by her two matching assistants, wants Jenna and Eric to work together on a campaign. He’s a budding filmmaker, with an MFA from USC. And she needs someone who can reach the younger audience. It’s a fine set-up for the movie’s “we should/we shouldn’t” minuet as well as its more contemporary “your job or your love life” tussle. Will this spark with Eric torch her revived career? Will their collaboration lead not just to love but to innovation?

The two are really attracted to each other. Their bickering has that amusing pent-up-desire vibe, although their heat might be the least convincing thing about the movie. Jenna also loves fashion. Browsing the pop-up store of a young designer (Latoia Fitzgerald), she starts to get inspired. A montage of black-and-white images of classic Black female style, by way of Earth Kitt, Dianne Carroll, Aretha, signal where that inspiration might lead her. Jenna’s got a gift.

So does Perrier. Having made in roads with critics with her 2020 semi-autobiographical indie “Jezebel,” about a webcam girl, this is her first mainstream feature. While the director doesn’t nail the chemistry between the movie’s lovely leads, she does weave inventiveness, playfulness and plenty of ideas throughout the romance.

From the outset, she courts lovers of romantic movies from an earlier era using a throwback playlist and a buoyant score intended to inject hope into the presumptive couple’s challenges. Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong sing “You Can’t Lose a Broken Heart.” Nat King Cole’s “Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup” plays gently when Jenna and Eric meet more than cute. And, in a sweet and smart twist, the pair bond over their fondness for the early African American movie star Nina Mae McKinney, whose photo hangs in Jenna’s new office. They also love Garbo in “Flesh and the Devil.” Clips from both movies are incorporated into “A Perfect Find.”

The script is the work of Leigh Davenport based on the novel by best-selling author Tia Williams. If the movie gets its fashion-world beats right, it’s because Williams is also the editorial director of Estee Lauder companies. Williams Davenport and Perrier have cameos as models in the vintage-embracing campaign Jenna and Eric create. While their work gains them notice — even a piece in the New York Times — their closeness eventually piques Darcy’s suspicions.

Perrier and cinematographer Eric Lin find depth and discover layers in the boldly colored fabrics and intentionally colliding patterns costume designer Amit Gajwani and production designer Sally Levi give the Darzine offices or Darcy’s power couture. Along with editor Paul Millspaugh, ACE, they all capture the many textures of the world the characters move through as well as the weft of the lovers’ moods.

But strangest, most ebullient moment in “The Perfect Find” might be a gathering at Jenna’s apartment. She and Eric are still trying to just be friends and colleagues. So, an introduction has been arranged by Jenna’s friend Billie. Jimmy (the comedian Godfrey) may be age-appropriate, but he doesn’t stand a chance. If that wasn’t merely a rule of the genre, it becomes clear as the little soiree breaks improbably but oh-so-satisfyingly into a “Soul Train” Line dance — to the Jets’ pop ballad “You Got It All” no less.

“The Perfect Find” is laced with gestures like this — odd and beautiful, bold and representative of a culture without needing to say so. The love story may not dazzle, but these moments do.