There are two things everyone in college fears: failing a final exam and what comes after college. Although both are rational fears, we often overcompensate with egregious plans to ensure our path will be stress-free. As cliche as it sounds, planning never works. Even for the most responsible and driven people, plans crumble when they collide with your life purpose. This difficult nugget of wisdom is the core theme for Netflix’s “Look Both Ways,” a film starring “Riverdale’s” Lili Reinhart and “On My Block’s” Danny Ramirez, who move from best friends to lovers and completely change the course of their lives forever.
Natalie (Lili Reinhart) is a senior in college with an impressive five-year plan. As a talented artist, she’s determined to move to LA and work under her favorite creators in hopes of becoming a notable artist herself. Natalie’s best friend, Gabe (Danny Ramirez), is the complete opposite. He’s an easygoing musician who aspires for his band to make it big. As the two mull over their final studies, Gabe announces his band scored an incredible gig to play. The two celebrate, but end up commemorating the occasion in another way they’d never considered: hooking up.
A few weeks later, the pair are celebrating graduation night at a sorority house. As Gabe jams out with the other students in the courtyard, Natalie and her other best friend, Cara (Aisha Dee), are locked in the bathroom with Natalie draped over the toilet. Natalie claims to be sick from bad sushi, however, Cara hands her a pregnancy test “just in case.” After Natalie takes the test and looks at the results, the film universe splits. In one reality she’s relieved to not be pregnant and rejoices with Cara. In the other reality, she’s pregnant and Cara hugs her sympathetically.
These two versions of Natalie play out the rest of the film. The pregnant Natalie tells Gabe the news of her pregnancy on graduation night and Gabe vows to stick by her side. Life moves quickly as the two versions of Natalie cope with their new changes. Pregnant Natalie and Gabe go to Natalie’s parents to tell them the news, while the other Natalie drives to LA with Cara to kick-start her career.
Both versions encounter their own unique problems as life becomes more complicated. Natalie’s identity changes completely once she gives birth and focuses completely on her daughter. In LA, the single Natalie struggles to find her voice after landing an incredible job opportunity. She even begins dating a co-worker, Jake (David Corenswet), who encourages her to dig deeper into her art. After a few months of dating, Jake announces he’s moving to Canada for another career passion, so the pair chooses to go long-distance.
Back in Arizona, Gabe tries to get Natalie and their daughter to live with him, but Natalie doesn’t want to complicate their co-parenting situation. Soon, Gabe introduces Natalie to his new girlfriend and Natalie realizes she made a mistake by pushing him away. LA Natalie comes to her wit’s end with her work as her boss, Lucy (Nia Long), encourages her to step away from her job to find her art style. On top of her long-distance relationship with Jake crumbling due to poor communication, this Natalie feels more alone than ever.
The lives of both Natalie are parallel at this point. In between caring for her daughter and developing new art ideas, Natalie becomes content with living her life quietly and not giving up on her passions. Her breakthrough finally comes after she submits her prized comic to an art contest and wins. By this time, five years have passed and Natalie has matured as a woman and artist. The movie closes with the two Natalies revisiting the sorority house and confirming “I’m okay” to her reflection in the mirror. As she walks back out, one Natalie walks away with Gabe and the other with Jake.
Natalie’s progression through both realities shows that regardless of her choice, her destined path to find her dream career and love was already written. This same theme was explored in “Mr. Nobody” where a young boy must decide which life path will lead to ultimate happiness. Like Natalie, Neo is afraid of deciding because each possibility has its own set of challenges.
Another film that toys with possibility is the German film “Run Lola Run.” This film focuses on a fiery young woman who plays out different scenarios in her head to see which will result in preventing her boyfriend from being arrested. With three potential outcomes, the protagonist finds clues in the outcomes that lead her to make the right choice, making her overall mission similar to Natalie’s. However, “Look Both Ways” keeps Natalie’s outcomes simple by having them flow as if the viewer is watching them play out in real-time. This approach feels more organic since it’s at a slower pace without high stakes.“Look Both Ways” understands that a hopeful yet realistic approach allows the audience to sympathize with both possible lives.
Whether Natalie ends up with Gabe or Jake isn’t the focus. Rather, the importance is that Natalie’s authenticity chooses what serves her best. “Look Both Ways” also comes at the right time when a lot of college graduates are entering the adult world and trying to figure out what step to take. Once Natalie lets go of trying to control her every move, her life blossoms and leads her in the right direction. “Look Both Ways” reminds viewers that regardless of what path you take, it will pan out exactly how it’s supposed to.
“Look Both Ways” is available to stream on Netflix.
By Adia Carter