The Hating Game is indeed worthy of hate.
The Hating Game was best-selling author Sally Thorne’s debut novel back in 2016, and if the Internet is to be believed, it has a wildly rabid fanbase, many of whom have been foaming at the mouth for a film adaptation for years. Curious, then, that the movie was independently produced and picked up for distribution by a studio that balances its streaming ventures with theatrical distribution. Perhaps they sensed that the target audience would rather grab a glass of wine and watch it on the couch than venture out to the theater in the middle of a pandemic. It’s more likely that they winced their way through an initial screening and thought, “Hey, brand recognition.” Fair enough. But that grudging respect does not extend to the film itself, an abomination that tries to be sexy, raunchy, sweet, and spiked, but only succeeds in being abhorrent.
A battle of the sexes in which the only winner is Thorne’s bank account, director Peter Hutchings’ The Hating Game presents the story of Lucy (Lucy Hale) and Josh (Austin Stowell), two individuals, as attractive as they are obnoxious, who work at a New York City publishing house. They share the same job title — Executive Assistant — although they also appear to be practically running the entire company themselves, which does indeed check out and proves to be the most realistic aspect of this movie. What was once a prestigious publishing firm has fallen on hard times, and as the film opens, it has been forced to merge with a competitor that favors “tell-all books about sports stars,” which is certainly a niche. The merger has forced sensitive artists to mingle with frat bros, the results being about as disastrous as that sounds.
Lucy and Josh, meanwhile, have a strictly hate-hate relationship; he is anal and domineering, she is sunny and lets people walk all over her. Except that she’s not really that way at all, because as is shown in numerous scenes, she is confrontational with Josh to the point of verbal abuse. Writer Christina Mengert seems to be under the impression that her dialogue is of a lineage with the likes of His Girl Friday in its flirty, fast-paced banter and caustic wit, but what it more resembles is a particularly barbed episode of Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. A deluge of dialogue delivered at a breakneck pace does not inherently breed cleverness, something we should’ve learned from the likes of Aaron Sorkin ages ago. Naturally, the two are secretly attracted to one another, but continue to play this schoolyard game because they are nothing more than adult-sized babies who act in no way, shape, or form like actual human beings. Both end up going after the same promotion, which stirs up fiery emotions that match their hidden libidos and ultimately cannot be contained. But are the two simply gaslighting one another in an effort to throw the other off their game? In a nutshell, the film proceeds in this way: they hate-flirt, dance around sex, and suspect each other of manipulation on a maddening loop.
Josh, it must be said, is criminally insane. Lucy is not wrong when she describes him as “American Psycho.” He treats her like full trash until suddenly the script decides he shouldn’t, but then ten minutes pass and he’s an asshole again. At one point he tells Lucy that she is not allowed to kiss him again until she makes out with another dude just so he can properly believe her when she utters the words, “No one kisses like you,” a line he forces her to say. He then later professes his undying love after a single date. The film also weirdly portrays the toxic masculinity and sexual harassment present with the publishing offices as borderline comical, until suddenly it realizes it is 2021 and throws in a line about possible prosecution. And then the batshit ending rolls around and finds the fractured couple reuniting seemingly because Lucy gets her way, which is a fairly insulting bow to put on this. Add to that the fact that Hale and Stowell have zero chemistry, which is what you get when you cast two of the most charisma-free actors working today, and you’ve got a final product that’s somehow worse than the duo’s last collab in Blumhouse’s big-screen adaptation of Fantasy Island. The Hating Game is appropriately titled, then, in that it’s sure to inspire that titular emotion in plenty of viewers (one assumes The Crying Game would also have been considered if not already spoken for). For many, this film will be a strong argument to swear off straight white people for good.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | December 2021.