Love Hard is the big Netflix Christmas header of the year. With a name that many will recognise from her The Vampire Diaries days at the helm, Nina Dobrev is the protagonist of a very modern Christmas RomCom.
An L.A. writer with a disappointing dating life decides to broaden her dating pool and finds through a dating app what seems to be the perfect match a 3,000 miles away from home. When she decides to surprise him for Christmas, she learns that the man of her dreams is very different from the virtual persona he broadcasted and that she has been catfished.
A different approach
In today’s world of online meetings, it’s not unheard of to go looking for love on the internet. It’s become enough of an everyday practice that it’s not as strange as it might have been – say – even just five years ago to be telling the sweet story of how one met their current soulmate and having to include the fact that the first encounter was a digital one.
Despite the lack of realism in having its protagonists actually get to know each other before meeting in person – the conversations on most dating apps I’ve used in my admittedly short experience have generally tended to progress rather fast from the initial “Nice to meet you” to a speedy “Wanna meet?” -, the narrative potential in the mystery and the shenanigans of meeting a person you kind of already theoretically know is undeniable and Love Hard understands that pretty well when it decides to make exactly this its main twist.
As we already said in the premise description, our protagonist Natalie (played by Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev) is a writer located in L.A. who hasn’t had much luck in the dating department. Luckily, though, she’s been able to use her misfortune to write a series of articles where she describes her experiences and cultivates an audience.
Every time she goes on a date and it ends poorly, she writes about it, to the point that it has become her entire brand and most of the people reading her stories expect them to be about disaster in the first place. But Natalie is tired. She’s done with all the vapid and self-obsessed men she’s found in L.A. and dreams of finally writing the one Happily Ever After story she’s been looking for. Never mind that we find out pretty early on that it is not just her dates who are insufferably unbearable, but Natalie also suffers from a condition called Being Too Picky.
That works pretty well for us the viewers, though, because it pushes Natalie to look beyond the measly confines of California for the perfect man, who she actually seems to finally find!
The fated meeting
Enter Josh (played by Jimmy O. Yang).
Josh is the perfect guy, or so it seems. He’s sweet, sensitive, he reads to Natalie until she falls asleep and doesn’t hang up the phone throughout the night. He’s attentive, kind, and a huge sweetheart, plus it really doesn’t hurt that, going by his pictures on the app, he’s built like a model.
Seems too good to be true, right? Well, that’s because it is. Natalie finds that out when, enraptured by everything about this man, she decides to risk it all in the hopes of a Christmas miracle and gives him a surprise visit for the holidays. This is how she finds out that perfect, handsome Josh has been catfishing her all along and that his pictures aren’t actually his.
This is where the movie becomes unbelievable.
But Josh isn’t even cute… or is he?
You see, I was kind of excited about this movie. The catfishing aspect of it all is a refreshing change from the usual cheesy Christmas romcom fare and its very existence promises chaos, so I was pretty much sold from the start (even though everything and anything Vampire Diaries carries very negative and irritating connotations for me, but that’s neither here nor there).
However, there is at least one huge flaw with what the story wants us to think. Josh catfishing Natalie is so terrible because he is actually hideous like we haven’t seen since the days of The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s titular Hunchback. Except he’s really, really not.
Faced with the reality of Natalie being in his house, Josh confesses that the pictures he used for his profile are actually his childhood’s best friend’s (played by Darren Barnet) and the reason for that is that when he did try to use his own, he couldn’t get any matches at all. To apologise to Natalie for what he did, Josh promises he’ll help her get the attention of said childhood friend but also asks Natalie not to give away the fact that she and Josh aren’t dating to Josh’s family who was present for her surprise and has already fallen in love with her. Further shenanigans aside, Natalie’s reaction to Josh’s lie is – to put it mildly – dumb as hell.
Josh is perfectly cute. Sure, Tag (the childhood friend) is model-handsome, but he has nothing in common with Natalie. Natalie, in fact, was actually talking to Josh and their compatibility hinges on Josh having been himself with her except for the pictures he displayed. Furthermore, even though Tag is a textbook hottie, he’s only that. He’s pretty in the way a bunch of rom-com love interests are: beautiful to look at, but so dim (thank you Ted Lasso for another quote I’ll be using for the rest of my life).
So, what’s the point?
Okay, admittedly, the movie knows all this. Natalie and Josh’s compatibility is, in fact, one of the points the movie brings up. Josh himself makes it totally clear that they were very good together before meeting because he was his true self with her and never lied.
Still, despite the obvious, Natalie cannot get over the false pictures. Why?
No, seriously, I’m asking.
You see, I could maybe, possibly, potentially, understand her reservations if Josh was terrible, just horrifying to look at. It would make her kind of a superficial jerk, but at least it would be understandable. Josh is none of that, though.
Natalie spends most of the movie juggling her expectations and all the lies she herself has to make up to align her personality with Tag’s, and Josh’s friendship. All throughout helping her with Tag, Josh seems to be saying that actually, Natalie was right, he is a disappointment and doesn’t deserve someone as pretty as her. But Natalie is doing the same thing with Tag that Josh did with her when he showed her misleading pictures.
Josh lied about his appearance but was sincere when it came to personality, Natalie is exactly as she looks, but none of the personality traits she broadcasts to Tag are real.
Again, the movie knows this. It tries to make it a point to let us know that Natalie and Josh are the ones who fit together from the start, but by validating Natalie’s insistence that the pictures thing is a huge thing, it never manages to make their compatibility credible beyond just friendship and even that is pretty one-sided all the times Josh comes across as the doormat in the relationship.
The average Christmas rom-com
All in all, Love Hard isn’t any worse or any better than all other Christmas rom-coms already in existence. It is entirely, perfectly average.
The premise, if developed well, could have made for a refreshing change and the addition of the Fake Dating trope certainly didn’t hurt. However, everything is developed so unbelievably blandly that it just ends up getting shelved as any other forgettable Christmas movie does.
One thing that did jump out to me in the movie, although not in a positive way, was the cringiest Baby, It’s Cold Outside cover I’ve ever heard. Natalie hates the song because of its alleged sexual assault-y overtones but still ends up having to sing it with Josh who, because he knows this, manages to change the lyrics on the spot and with that, the meaning of the song. Aside from the fact that’s very obviously supposed to be a sweet moment (and it kind of is in itself), it ends up validating the misguided assumption that the song is, in fact, talking about date rape.
I’m gonna say something controversial here: it’s not.
It’s a song from 19-fudging-44. It’s supposed to be read as a conversation that includes a woman who, quite obviously, does not want to leave a man’s house for the night but cannot openly say so and starts making up plausible but untrue excuses for how she was convinced to stay so that she doesn’t get the blame for her own desires.
One good thing that the movie does have – besides Jimmy O. Yang who I’ve always found very attractive and wonderfully funny – is Harry Shum Jr. You probably know him from his Shadowhunters days, but if you’re thinking of Glee instead I both respect you a little more and a little less. Either way, he plays an insufferable big brother here and literally every second of his screentime is a hilarious display of acting.
Should you watch this movie? Sure, why not, go for it!
Despite the obvious flaws, Love Hard is not any worse than other Christmas rom-coms and might actually be considered slightly above average. Just barely, though.
It’s a fun time, it’s definitely a short time, and it’s harmless fun although it does nothing to help the rom-com business which definitely needs some of that revamping that To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before had seemed to be promising to bring (but demonstrated it couldn’t with the release of the second and third movies, I’m not getting into that here though).
If you have already or will end up watching it, let me know what you thought in the comments and make sure to keep up with our updates through our social media channels!