It's November and if you haven't checked your calendar, just open Netflix. It's the time of the annual Netflix seasonal movie haul! The minute I see a bundle of films with a 'Christmas' or 'Holiday' or 'Love' or 'Spirit' and a Netflix logo on it, I know the holidays are upon us! Not to sound too judgy, Netflix does release a lot of Christmas movies that one doesn't expect much from one of those (at least not me..and I have seen almost all of those films!). They are pretty much all the same.. feel-good, sweet and Christmassy! And it is with that same expectation that I started watching 'Love Hard", a Netflix original that was recently released. "After meeting her perfect match on an online dating app, an LA writer learns she's been catfished when she flies 3000miles to surprise him for Christmas" is the synopsis of the film. Not very much to expect there huh? I thought the same too. But this one was somewhat different. I mean, it definitely is one of those holiday spirited feel-good lovey-dovey films. But it is also an hour and 45minutes of emotion, beauty, kindness and obviously to nuzzle it up, a little drama! But not too much of it to turn you off I promise! I don't really wanna sound like one of those cheesy emotional people who gets all mellowy after a feel-good rom-com(Granted I'm a true sucker for genuine emotions!). But I truly believe there are some things that hit everybody just about the same. That very thing that makes movies like 'The Holiday' or 'Nottinghill' loved by all. This film is something like that. Not super great. But it has that something to it!
The first 15 minutes of the film is so predictable, the only difference being that the protagonist, Natalie, played by the Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev, fuels her career by writing about the disaster-dates she's been on with guys she matched on online dating apps. She appears to be someone tired of these fiasco dates and wants to find her true love(though it's not something her Editor boss wants obviously!). Just as she's about to give up on love, she matches with her dream guy, Josh (Darren Barnet). They talk for hours and connect on a whole different level as opposed to her past experience with men. On his "I wish you were here with me on Christmas" and her Boss's "I need a new story", Natalie decides to fly across the country to surprise him for Christmas and write a whole different article on how she found her true love. However, the film takes a slight 'expected' twist when it turns out that Josh was catfishing Natalie. If anybody doesn't know, catfishing is luring someone into a relationship by faking to be someone else or a fake persona. It turns out Darren Barnet (photos) is actually Jimmy O.Yang. That's not the twist though. Darren Barnet is Jimmy's childhood friend, Tag. So he actually exists! Hmmm.. now what would a normal person do when they find out they have been catfished after flying for 3000 miles (and losing their luggage in the airport)?! Hold your answer. Because Natalie decides to stay. On one condition, Josh helps set her up with the real Tag. Hence begins the plot. Josh's tormented childhood being the unachieving son next to his ambitious big brother, his sweet family, the place, Josh's kind-hearted nature, everything warms our heroine at heart, despite her pursuing Tag with interest. There's also a conflict of the characters as Natalie, who was catfished by Josh, does the same to Tag to get him to like her. Hoof drama! Now that's the plot.
The reviews on this film haven't been all that positive, from the teasing on the title of the movie (Josh's favourite holiday movie is 'Love Actually' and Natalie's is 'Die Hard', hence the name 'Love Hard') saying ‘They should have titled it 'Die Actually', to the accusation that the hero and heroine ending up together is a negative message about catfishing. And I do agree, I did not want that either. Catfishing is definitely a very deceiving thing to do and it cannot be justified. But overcoming one's insecurities and to be openly vulnerable in a relationship is not an easy thing to do for all. And when you think about it that way, this film is about honesty and being who you really are, and Josh and Natalie ending up together after they are completely honest with each other, isn't so bad after all. Is it?!
The quirky dialogues throughout the movie are funny but also quite cliche. The direction by Hernan Jimenez is decent and the cinematography by Shane Hurlbut is fair. The ambient colours and lighting are really pretty and festive. Can't say the screenplay is tightly wound because it isn't. Like how Josh's brother was plain right mean and toxic from their childhood, yet he is shown as a protective brother all of a sudden. And his father being all supportive and super cool out of the blue. Very confusing! The individual performances of the cast are fair but not oh-so-great! Nina fans aren't going to be fully satisfied that's for sure!
Overall, in my opinion, Love Hard isn't a bad watch at all. It has its fair share of incompleteness and lack of depth. But it's also bearably sweet and has a good message if you can take it in the right sense, i.e.Honesty is the key to a genuine relationship! It's like a first attempt at a Christmas cookie, decent and sweet, but may..be a little undercooked or burnt even!
-Sruthi Anitha Sreekumar