Edited by Katie Constantine
While scrolling through Netflix in a post-Thanksgiving daze, I was pleasantly surprised to see the cover of Love Hard, featuring an AAPI lead. The 2021 film is a holiday romantic comedy starring Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O Yang. A dating columnist Natalie (played by Dobrev) is based in LA, but matches with her dream dude Josh who lives in Lake Placid. Believing that this person is “the one” she decides to travel to his home to surprise him for Christmas. Lo and behold, she gets catfished. She’s angry but decides to stay in town once she realizes that Josh had used a former friend’s pictures and that said friend, named Tagg, was still in town. Hijinks ensue and spoilers below.
Overall, the movie was an enjoyable take on the holiday rom-com. The film was generally upbeat, though with several pre-requisite cringey moments. As someone who is allergic to many fruits/nuts, I particularly enjoyed the sequence where she unwittingly performs karaoke in the midst of an anaphylactic episode (and is subsequently taken to the vet instead of the human hospital), but I found that it was drawn out for a bit too long. While the catfishing plot of the film was definitely written for 21st century issues, the movie does require the viewer to suspend their disbelief on occasion. For example, why would one set the dating profile radius to the entire country? If I were on the receiving end of that, it would let me know you’re not serious and I would personally not even respond back.
Unfortunately, the film failed to perform the romance aspect of the rom-com as effectively as the comedy. With Tagg, the film definitely got the point across that he and Natalie are not a match. She’s a vegetarian, his family owns a steakhouse. But I don’t think that I buy the romance between Josh and Natalie, especially Natalie’s epiphany at the end of the film. I do however buy that they have been building a really solid friendship, which honestly is a better predictor of general compatibility in my opinion. In terms of Natalie’s epiphany at the end, something about it strikes me as a bit rushed (and therefore not super believable). I feel like my family would hold more of a grudge, but Natalie is invited to stay for Christmas.The rest of the ending is a bit more ambiguous since nothing else is implied with regards to whether she and Josh will stay together, and if he will move to LA to launch his company.
In terms of character development, Josh and his family are really fleshed out and are really endearing. His father and stepmother are in an interracial second marriage that is super happy, and the family is really supportive especially since we are used to seeing tiger parents pushing their kids towards law and medicine so it’s interesting to see that the dad has an outdoorsy career. As for Natalie, she works in social media and is a vegetarian, but her favorite Christmas film is Die Hard. This makes her seem like she’s a stereotypical LA big-city girl and a little bit of the “cool girl”. The most improbable part of her storyline is that she flew across the country to surprise a stranger, with whom she has never even video chatted. Even by holiday rom-com standards, that behavior is kind of unhinged.
Despite its shortcomings, I did find this film to be a very cute and generally light-hearted watch. I like that an Asian American family is just portrayed as normal. For many minority groups, there is lots of representation of trauma, but not of joy and acceptance. This is, however, a somewhat divisive issue amongst audiences. My partner and I (both Asian American) generally liked that they didn’t harp on tropes and stereotypes of the Asian American identity. But in reflecting on the movie for this piece, I think that probably is because the writers were not Asian American (and some of the jokes hit weirdly because of that, like references to geishas). Others think that race should have been handled differently and with more care. But holiday romances have long been the butt of jokes for low production value and cheesy plots, which make them borderline intolerable. When considering that metric, this film has knocked it out of the park. So while it lacks the magical quality of other holiday films that I watch year after year, for me this was a mostly pleasant and cute film that tried to update a somewhat tired formula.