Netflix holiday rom-com ‘Love Hard’ had potential but falls into genre pitfalls

Written By Rachel Ross, Co-Opinions Editor

2 Globes

Going into “Love Hard,” I couldn’t help but be a little bit apprehensive. In recent years, Netflix has attempted to dip its toes into the holiday movie market, usually producing lackluster films that sort into one of two categories: feel good family movies where they somehow convinced Kurt Russell to play Santa Claus, and Hallmark style love stories where the number of Vanessa Hudgens’ keep multiplying with each subsequent sequel. I could tell from first glance that this movie belonged to that second group, the greater of the two evils for me. However, “Love Hard” ended up surprising me, offering an entry that is above averagely creative and competent…but also can’t help getting bogged down by the tropes and copy-paste formula of the genre.

The movie follows Carrie Bradshaw wannabe Natalie, portrayed by Nina Dobrev of “The Vampire Diaries” fame, who writes a newspaper column about disastrous dates, as she comes across her dream guy on a dating app and matches with him. They chat for a few weeks, over the course of which Natalie becomes so smitten that she decides to travel to his small hometown and surprise him for Christmas. However, she arrives to find that she’s been catfished. Initially, I thought that this plot detail would be considered a spoiler, but Netflix includes it in their description of the movie, so I guess it’s fair game. Natalie is persuaded to stay in Lake Placid when she realises the guy who’s profile picture she actually fell for lives in the town as well. Catfish guy, played by Jimmy O. Yang, offers to help her connect with him, so long as she helps him with something in return. From there, needlessly-complicated-situation-chaos ensues.

I don’t want to divulge into the full plot as to avoid spoilers, but I will say that I was surprised by how layered it was compared to some of the other movies in this genre. There’s two major catches or sides to the story, which made it feel like actual time and effort had been taken to make it interesting, as opposed to some of the other movies like this where they do the bare minimum possible. It’s a situation that I actually felt interested or invested in, that culminated into a hectic and energetic climax…before fumbling into a rushed and predictable ending. Really, that is this movie’s biggest flaw: any time it seems to have something interesting or unique going on, they end up ruining it with some kind of cliche. I feel confident in saying that this movie could have actually been good outright if it didn’t constantly fall back on these predictable outcomes and on-the-nose dialogue. I knew exactly how things were going to work out 20 minutes in. You could argue the predictability of these movies is part of the comfort and appeal, which I guess I could understand, but on the other hand, it also makes them feel a lot more like a factory produced product than a movie. It seems like “Love Hard” wants to be original and stand on its own, while also lumping itself in with these other genre movies, which is a choice that it pays for significantly.

In terms of performances, while I did feel as though Nina Dobrev was invested in the role, her character often came off as annoying or unlikeable, which made it harder for me to appreciate her efforts. I do think most of the problem was the writing though, not so much Dobrev herself. I think the writers purposely made her kind of conceited in the interest of making it clear that she learned something by the end, since nothing can be subtle. On the flip side, they made Jimmy O. Yang into the nicest catfish you will ever meet. They’re trying so hard to hammer in this idea that he’s actually a really nice guy that’s just insecure that they break the board. While Yang did deliver an entertaining and somewhat endearing performance, I couldn’t help but have the thought at the back of my head the whole time, hey, remember how this started with him being a catfish? The only performance from the supporting cast that I feel compelled to mention is Harry Shum Jr., who plays Yang’s older brother. He was extremely cartoonish and energetic, and overall pretty entertaining as the pompous jerk.

Now comes the point where I power on my hyperjets and skip right to ludicrous speed with my complaints, because I’ve saved the worst for last. Without a doubt, the biggest problem I had with this movie was the insufferable humor and pop culture references. Now, if the beginning of this paragraph wasn’t indication enough, I love references. I use them in my writing and vernacular all the time; it’s great, no one ever knows what I’m talking about. But these references are so devoid of any commentary or substance, I’m not even confident in calling them references. A lot of them are very much in the vein of mentioning something just for the sake of mentioning it, as opposed to actually making some kind of meaningful comparison or commentary.

There’s this overdrawn “joke” about whether or not “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie, which is what I believe the title of this movie is supposed to be in reference to, and it’s insufferable every time. I mean, this is a Facebookesque scuffle from years ago that was barely interesting then. It’s not the fact that it’s an older “reference,” it’s that they’re acting like this is some Earth shattering discovery that they are the first to come up with. The spoof on “Love, Actually” at the end, while not being played for comedy, was still a reference that has been incredibly overdone already, being featured in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch and an episode of the sitcom “The Middle” years ago, probably amongst other things. And please don’t even get me started on the inclusion of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” because it made me want to throw my computer at the wall. While some of the other jokes not of the reference variety caught me off guard a few times for being edgier than something you’d usually see from a movie like this, I don’t think I ever laughed genuinely. Their magnum opus joke, I’ll just call it, “The allergic reaction” to avoid spoilers, made me cringe internally.

I think that “Love Hard” had the potential to set itself apart from the rom-com genre, but it’s too afraid to really take the plunge and venture too far from expectations. I personally didn’t really enjoy this movie, but someone who finds the genre more appealing or enjoyable probably would. If you’re looking for good movies to watch this holiday season, I’d say stick with the classics: “Christmas Vacation,” “Home Alone,” “Lethal Weapon,” etc.