Jimmy O. Yang makes for an unconventional, likeable lead, but Love Hard is an otherwise frothy and disposable holiday trifle.
The bafflingly titled Love Hard would seem to promise an exciting return to the golden age of rom-coms, back before feminism went mainstream and when every character populating such films was making life choices that ranged from vaguely criminal to actually deranged. Back in the days of My Best Friend’s Wedding and While You Were Sleeping, rom-com roles were just so much juicier, and between Love Hard’s unconventional male lead (Jimmy O. Yang) and its bizarre catfishing plot, there are occasional glimpses of that politically incorrect, love-makes-ya-crazy yesteryear. But ultimately, the spark that helped those films shape their own craziness to playful and moving ends is sadly absent here.
Love Hard follows Natalie (Nina Dobrev), an unlucky-in-love serial dater whose years-long string of failed dates has landed her a career as a relationships columnist. Tired of the LA dating scene, she widens her dating app parameters and meets Josh Lin (Yang), an outdoorsy, witty East Coast small-town hunk, a man who is so perfect that he seems too good to be true. Upon turning up on Josh’s doorstep just in time for Christmas, Natalie finds that Josh has been catfishing her with a photo of his friend Tag (Darren Barnet) and, in need of a story and still hoping to romance Tag, she agrees to pretend to be Josh’s girlfriend for the festive season. Cue shenanigans.
The success of any rom-com ultimately rides on the chemistry of its leads, and it’s disappointing to report that Dobrev and Yang have very little. Dobrev’s characterization is largely limited to comments that sound like clickbait titles from five years ago, like “Seven reasons why Die Hard is a Christmas movie” or “Baby It’s Cold Outside is Bad, Actually,” and the actress is understandably not able to do much with the fluff material she’s given. Yang fares better, as his character isn’t limited to simply regurgitating stale pop culture discourse, and he has the distinctly meatier role, on top of being a delightfully unconventional lead in a movie of this ilk. Regardless of the tiny influence this straight-to-Netflix film is likely to have, inspiring more romantic roles for eminently charming actors like Yang would be the best possible outcome for a trifle like this. Unfortunately for Love Hard, however, it simply isn’t the vehicle for either of its leads that it should be, in no small part because moments of chemistry are so rare. It’s hard not to think that a film with a premise of “appearances can be deceiving” and all the myriad types of catfishing that can be toyed with might have fared better had they had cast a less obviously attractive lead than Dobrev, who is inexplicably described as “an LA six” in the film, but can’t convincingly sell the late-bloomer, unlucky-in-love schtick that Yang pulls off so effortlessly. The casting issues even extend to the supporting players, in particular Harry Shum Jr, normally effortlessly likeable, but who here tries to play an attention-seeking golden-child and veers so ridiculously over-the-top that he is genuinely cringeworthy to watch. The film, though frothy and disposable, does have some endearing moments, but with better casting, Love Hard potentially could have risen above its VOD trappings, and provided the showcase that Yang deserved.
You can currently stream Hernán Jiménez’s Love Hard on Netflix.