Photo By: Noah Nickel via Netflix
Love Hard is a Cyrano de Bergerac style rom-com, similar to Sierra Burgess is a Loser, a Netflix original which became a very popular hate-watch in 2018 after its release. If you set the bar at Sierra Burgess or any of the awful original Christmas rom-coms Netflix has released, then Love Hard is pretty good, but that is a supremely low bar to clear. It is an unconventional approach to the cheesy Christmas movie genre, but it misses the mark in a handful of ways.
The Christmas romantic comedy genre is tough to crack. There are plenty of bad ones and everyone has their favourites that they rewatch every year. The writers of Love Hard seem to think that by simply referencing Love Actually and Die Hard (yeah, that’s where the title came from) they can join the ranks of Christmas classics. While this movie may be better than Love Actually, Love Actually sucks – the characters in Love Hard agree.
The premise is that writer Natalie (Nina Dobrev) has made a career writing about her bad dates. She finally meets someone she thinks is the one (Josh, played by Jimmy O Yang) and flies across the country to surprise him, only to find out he is not who he says he is. She’s angry, but agrees to pretend to date him if he sets her up with the guy he was pretending to be. Somehow, she feels justified taking the moral high ground as if she hasn’t exploited every date she’s had to fuel her writing career. She uses that moral high ground to control Josh instead of just flying back home on her boss’ dime and writing about the experience.
It’s hard to watch this movie because the cast has some genuinely good actors and performances. Yang is outstanding as Josh, balancing sincerity and romance with comedy effectively, making it even more heartbreaking when characters are mean to him.
Dobrev’s performance is fine, it has that trademark Christmas rom-com larger-than-life style. Credit must be given to her though, because she did her best with a role that is so poorly written. Usually, the romantic leads in these movies are relatable and only comedically misguided, but Natalie is deeply unlikeable for most of the film.
Harry Shum Jr. as Josh’s brother Owen plays a hateable antagonist. He’s a good actor giving a solid performance, but someone ruined it when they thought it was a good idea to give him a song and dance number, complete with obscene amounts of autotune.
The message of the movie seems to be a cautionary tale against being shallow, and a warning against misguided grand romantic gestures, but the characters don’t seem to learn from that. It still ends with a stereotypical rom-com moment, which contradicts what the last hour and a half of the movie seemed to be getting at.
A great deal of the humour is either out-of-touch or cringy, with the occasional line that prompts a real laugh, including a parody of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” about the importance of consent. The tone is all over the place, from stupid comedy to sincere love story, and back again, within moments of each other. These things can work together on screen, but this script lacks subtlety and it just doesn’t make it work.
Love is hard, and while there are a couple decent laughs and romantic moments, there are many better Christmas movies and there isn’t enough good in Love Hard to redeem it. The moments of sincere romance are undercut by the fact that the movie is cheesy and lacks self-awareness.