No one hates you like your best friend.
It's a horrible, ugly truth: the person who knows you better than anyone can, given the provocation, become your worst, most effective enemy, armed as they are with all your secrets and vulnerabilities. And their front-row seat makes them the first to tire of your shortcomings, your flaws, your failings. That’s the sentiment at the heart of The Layover, a movie which pits two best friends against each other. Their feud is ostensibly over a man, but it's really about just being sick of one another’s bullshit. And that’s actually a rich idea for a story, but The Layover is ultimately too sweet an endeavor to really dig into this premise.
Director William H. Macy’s film starts with an adorably ‘80s, Ivan Reitman/Harold Ramis-esque setup (courtesy of writers Lance Krall and David Hornsby): Kate (Alexandra Daddario) is "asked to vacate" her teaching position after letting a kid read a hentai comic to the rest of the class, while would-be cosmetics entrepreneur Meg (Kate Upton) botches a retail deal when a department store head learns her sketchy cosmetics are from North Korea. Both react to their very bad day in their own way: Kate opts for retail therapy while Meg fucks her Uber driver. Returning to their shared apartment to commiserate, both judge the other for their respective coping mechanisms.
Their bristling animosity continues to be seeded early, as the more sexually empowered Meg takes a swipe at the reserved Kate while they watch The Bachelor and imagine out loud how they'd do on the show. Both have judgmental attitudes toward the other from the jump, revealed with the slightest prodding and enough wine.
That spreads into their therapeutic, spontaneous "girls trip" trip to Florida, with Meg continuing her low-key belittling of Kate even before the plane takes off. When a hot guy (Matt Barr) sits between them on the flight, an emboldened (and heavily medicated) Kate hits her limit with Meg's shameless flirting and shade-throwing, and lays down the gauntlet. (Or tries to, before her anti-anxiety meds render her incapable of speech.)
From there the game is on, with both women one-upping the other in a shitty, escalating contest of wiles. Keeping us invested in characters who are actively harming one another is a tricky balancing act: you need to go Farrelly Brothers-level big or Alexander Payne-level dark, and unfortunately The Layover does neither. Friends drag one another, drug one another, slut-shame and insult each other, and actively sabotage one another’s well-being for 87 minutes, and the film doesn’t provide the kind of contextual canvas for that stuff to land the way it should.
Daddario gets to show a gift for physical comedy, but casting her as the dowdy half of this friendship is a bit of a hurdle. (“I look like Mickey Rourke.” What?) Nevertheless, she and Upton are fine together, even earning a moment or two of genuine pathos when the script isn’t throwing out narratively unearned beats for them to hoop-jump through. Barr is essentially eye candy, but that’s no real fault of his; on paper he's just kind of there. Kal Penn as a Yelp-obsessed hotel employee is fun, and Matt Jones gets a few moments to shine. Molly Shannon has a brief turn as an advice-giving mistress celebrating the 10th anniversary of her affair, which gives you an idea of the film’s relationship politics. (Or does it? There’s a pious third-act twist that’s seemingly at odds with all that’s come before.)
There’s a problematic minefield to be waded through here, but let’s just say the last thing this movie’s plot needs is another middle-aged white dude weighing in on its moral compass. But this film’s biggest frenemy remains its script. The hateful competition plot throws very few curveballs, and the big laughs come too infrequently. The Layover is ultimately a harmless comedy that never gets quite as mean or deep as it wants (and, honestly, kind of needs) to be.