Love Hard Review: Nina Dobrev & Jimmy O. Yang's Christmas romantic comedy is a classic case of 'Love Modernly'
Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang's charming chemistry makes way for a predictably "cliche-filled" delightful watch. Read Pinkvilla's review below.
Love Hard Cast: Nina Dobrev, Jimmy O. Yang, Darren Barnet
Love Hard Director: Hernán Jiménez
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Love Hard Stars: 3/5
We're in November and you know what that means; a slew of Christmas-themed movies to give us the warm, fuzzy feelings. Love Hard is amongst the first to take one for the overrated yet equally endeared genre and this time, we're given more of a "Love Modernly" take. Starring an unconventionally relatable rom-com pair, Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang, does Love Hard deliver on its assignment? Let's find out.
In Love Hard, Nina plays Natalie Bauer, an LA-based columnist who goes on disaster dates not just to find her soulmate but also to write for her superhit column, under the sarcastic pseudonym "Always a Bridesmaid". While swiping left and right on Flirt Alert, a dating app, she finds herself intrigued by the dashing, outdoorsy Tag (Darren Barnet) and swipes right. After two weeks of intimate conversing and a subtle hint at wanting to finally meet face-to-face, Natalie gambles it all and travels to a small town in New York to surprise her mystery man on Christmas.
However, luck ain't sweet as candy for Natalie as she rudely finds out that she's been catfished by a Josh Lin (Jimmy O. Yang), who is the complete opposite to Tag with his nerdy glasses, straight AF teeth and candle-making personality. Initially distraught with the betrayal, Josh is able to quickly make up by promising Natalie to set her up with Tag (by changing her entire personality to suit Tag's whimsical traits), who used to be his eighth grade BFF. In return, Natalie would have to pretend to be Josh's girlfriend to appease his parents, especially his "forever hogging the limelight" overachieving elder brother, Owen Lin (Harry Shum Jr.).
As you'd expect, plenty of mishaps (including the patented party showdown where revelations are made!) take place as the lies pile on and on, and then some, that could rival Natalie's worst dates, even the one where she's tricked into a date with a married man! Love Hard is a borrowed, predictable, cliches-driven galore and at a point, even problematic, because of its subversion of the female protagonist in a typical man, man, man's world. Natalie quiet quickly getting over Josh's deception, only to do the same thing with Tag, trying to be someone she's not can is a stark contrast to what Love Hard is trying to part as words of wisdom; Love doesn't have to be perfect, it must be honest.
But, on the brighter side, we're given an in-depth look at how, we too, are pretty hypocritical because if we were to choose between a Tag and Josh, our eyes would be more drawn by Tag's physical appearance, at least at first sight. What was refreshing about Love Hard is how it doesn't steer too preachy and rather adds witty humour throughout the most dramatic of sequences. We see this when Josh's dirty-minded grandmother June Lin (Takayo Fischer) take Josh and Natalie to an old-age home to give advice to the elderly on dating apps, which as you'd expect goes horribly wrong. A special mention to the heartwarming 'modern feminist' rendition of Baby It's Cold Outside! Though, the Love Actually iconic "love confession" scene parody climax could have been avoided...
When it comes to the performances, I can't help but mention how Nina is a criminally underrated actress who didn't get her solo time to shine post The Vampire Diaries. In Love Hard, Natalie can come across as a distasteful character, albeit, with Nina's glorious leading lady screen presence, you're rooting for Nat through and through. Especially, during her neverending disastrous moments. The star of Love Hard is undoubtedly the cheeky Jimmy as the loveable male lead Josh, who shares easy-breezy chemistry with Nina and also shines the most when he's interacting with his dysfunctionally adorable family members.
Harry Shum Jr. as Josh's douchebag brother Owen brings in the necessary laughs with his over the top theatrics, thanks to his Glee repertoire, while Mikaela Hoover as Owen's bimbo wife Chelsea is easily forgettable. James Saito as Josh's caring father Bob Lin is nothing less than charming, especially in one pivotal dad-son bonding scene with Jimmy's Josh while Rebecca Staab as Barb Lin doesn't have much to play with. Takayo's June shenanigans are hilarious while Heather McMahan, Matty Finochio and Lochlyn Munro as Natalie's 'worst advice-giving best friend Kerry, Natalie's horrible boss Lee and Josh and Tag's fellow stoner head common friend Rex are the cliched rom-com characters we'd like to get rid of already. As for Darren, the hottie plays a Christmas version of his beloved Never Have I Ever character Paxton Hall-Yoshida as Tag and doesn't make that memorable an appearance. P.S. A recurring thought I had while watching Love Hard; as a fellow Asian, I find it ridiculous to believe that Jimmy's family let Natalie stay in his room and even prompted them to share a kiss. Like how even!
Barring this questionable diagnosis aside, Danny Mackey and Rebecca Ewing's Love Hard script was so focused on Natalie's pursuit of perfect love that it failed to capitalise on Josh's family dynamics, with no closure between Josh and Owen or even Josh and Tag, for that matter. On the other hand, Hernán Jiménez's direction in Love Hard blazed through seamlessly when it came to Natalie and Josh getting to know each other and becoming closer, in direct contrast to her anxious-filled uncomfortableness with Tag. It's when Nina and Jimmy are allowed to elaborate why they're the imperfectly perfect match that Love Hard works its magic. Even Shane Hurlbut's festive cinematography was given a surprisingly quirky edge by Priscilla Nedd-Friendly's zig-zag editing while Mark Orton's music was as good as it gets.
While Love Hard makes it quite "hard to love" (all the pun intended!) the movie, there is a push and pull we've come to concur when it comes to Christmas movies. And in that, Love Hard excels "truly, madly, deeply".