It is a truth universally acknowledged that a streaming service, in possession of a vast fortune, must churn out a large number of sub-par, formulaic, cringe-worthy romcoms in the run-up to Christmas. The streaming service we’re referring to is, of course, Netflix – the platform we can always rely on to show up in November, armed with a tray of half-baked holiday movies.
From Holidate and the Knight Before Christmas, to the Princess Switch series and anything else starring Vanessa Hudgens, the streamer has always delivered when releasing their annual slate of sickly-sweet festive flicks and this year is no exception with Love Hard – a Christmas romcom starring Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang – kicking off the 2021 holiday season.
The plot is as follows: Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev is Natalie in the Love Hard cast, an LA-based journalist best known for her disastrous dating column, who stumbles across the seemingly-perfect Josh on a dating app (Darren Barnet). After a month of long phone calls, meaningful conversations and constant texting, Natalie decides to travel to his Lake Placid hometown and surprise Josh for Christmas – but turns up at his house to find that she’s been cat-fished.
Josh (Jimmy O. Yang) is actually a glasses-wearing shop assistant living in his parents’ basement who’d been masquerading as his former best friend Tag (Barnet). While initially horrified, Natalie strikes a deal with Josh: she’ll pretend to be Josh’s girlfriend for the holiday season if he uses his inside knowledge of Tag’s interests to help set them up.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s just read this synopsis that Love Hard is a flawed film, even for a romcom – a genre of film that typically requires some suspension of belief at the best of times. Not only is the premise, where a woman slowly falls in love with a dating app identity fraudster, ripped straight from the pages of a catfish’s fan-fiction, but there are just too many plot details that are distractingly improbable.
In the digital age we’re living in, it’s hard to believe Natalie wouldn’t have tried to FaceTime Josh over the month they’d spent texting and speaking on the phone, and as for her turning up at his house to surprise him – how did she find out where Josh lived? I don’t know a huge amount about cat-fishing, but giving your actual address to the person you’re trying to dupe seems like a big no-no.
Arguably the most unbelievable element of Love Hard is the fact that Natalie doesn’t run for the hills as soon as she discovers Josh isn’t the person she thought he was. While she’s not exactly happy about being romantically conned, she doesn’t seem particularly concerned, worried or scared about the fact that she’s given four weeks of her life to a man she probably knows nothing about and is far too willing to spend Christmas sleeping in the same room as him.
Despite Love Hard’s problematic plot points, Dobrev and Yang’s romantic chemistry is one of the few highlights of the film, with Yang delivering a performance so subtly charming that you soon start to feel quite fond of the objectively creepy Josh. However, the pair aren’t helped by the script’s heavy mix of romcom and Christmas film cliches that are so shoe-horned, it’s as if the screenwriters simply copied and pasted elements of the script from a host of different early noughties chick-flicks.
From Nina Dobrev playing a writer who’s unlucky in love (those raised on a steady diet of romcoms such as myself will have been lulled into thinking there are countless vacancies for journalism jobs), to the cliche of two adversaries slowly falling in love after making a mutually beneficial deal/bet/wager (see: 10 Things I Hate About You, How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Proposal, Two Weeks Notice, and most of Sandra Bullock’s work), Love Hard ticks almost all of the boxes on your romcom bingo card. There’s even a moment where Natalie recreates the Love Actually cards scene – which is arguably the creepiest scene in the whole film.
Love Hard isn’t completely terrible though. There are a few chuckle-worthy lines of dialogue, especially when the film tries to satirise digital dating culture (in one scene, Natalie’s quick-witted, article-hungry boss – played by Matty Finochio – teases her: “What about the guy who kept calling your relationship a collab?”) and if it’s a slightly trashy, candy cane-filled romcom you’re after, then that’s exactly what you’re getting with this film.
Those looking for the next critically acclaimed romantic comedy hit that’s set to become an annual Christmas watch will probably find Love Hard hard to love, but just like the rest of Netflix’s collection of cringe-worthy festive efforts, this good-intentioned film will undoubtedly find its audience as we dive head-first into the holiday season.