Eternally single L.A. based journalist Natalie (Nina Dobrev) has made a career out of writing about her disastrous love life. Sick of not being able to find true love, Natalie turns to a dating app where she meets Josh (Jimmy O. Yang). As the two begin chatting they hit it off and Natalie makes an impulsive decision to fly to the east coast to surprise Tag for Christmas. Her editor asks her to write an article from the experience, which Natalie agrees to but she’s adamant that it will be about a dating success for once. When Natalie arrives at Josh’s home, she learns that she’s been catfished and that Jimmy had been passing himself off as his childhood friend Tag (Darren Barnet). To make up for his deception, Josh promises to help Natalie win over the real Tag but the experience turns out to be a lot more enlightening that Natalie could have predicted.
‘Love Hard’ is among Netflix’s slate of Christmas movies for 2021 and it’s a light-hearted romantic comedy that’s perfect for the dark (and increasingly cold) nights. Taking a simple idea, and one that will be familiar to rom-com fans, ‘Love Hard’ isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel; instead it’s attempting to warm your heart as we prepare for the onslaught of the festive season. While Daniel Mackey and Rebecca Ewing’s story may not be wholly original, it has a certain charm to it that will reel you in and keep you invested to find out what happens.
When Natalie discovers that Josh has been lying to her, the film really starts to kick in. Rather than turn around and go home, and prove to her editor that her adventure was another dating disaster, Natalie promises Josh that’ll she pretend to be his girlfriend in front of his family if he helps her win over Tag. Of course, Natalie has idealised who Tag is based on her conversations with Jimmy and before long she finds herself lying to Tag to win him over, in much the same way Josh lied to her. Natalie is so adamant that Tag is ‘the one’, that she lies about pretty much everything to try and impress him.
An aspect of the film I enjoyed was Josh’s overly competitive brother Owen (Harry Shum Jr.) who always has to one-up his younger sibling. That character helps to flesh out Josh’s character and deeper explore his lack of confidence when it comes to both dating and his career. Josh is constantly in the shadow of his older brother, who seemingly has the perfect life. To complicate things, Owen is very suspicious of Natalie and it doesn’t take him long to start digging in the hope that he can find something on her, and use that to break up his brother’s ‘relationship’.
What elevates ‘Love Hard’ above the material is its cast. Nina Dobrev is a winning lead and her comedic timing here is spot on. It’s nice to see her play a role that’s a million miles away from the one she played on ‘The Vampire Diaries’, and she’s a very charismatic actor. I was also impressed with Jimmy O. Yang who, like Dobrev, showcases strong comedic timing and a believable chemistry with Dobrev. Harry Shum Jr. is a scene-stealer as Owen too, and it’s nice to see him exploring his comedy side (as well as getting the chance to show off his singing once again).
‘Love Hard’ is completely predictable but honestly, that didn’t bother me at all. This isn’t a film that’s trying to do something new or win all of the awards. It’s aiming to be a heart-warming romantic comedy in the run-up to Christmas and judged against that, it’s a success. ‘Love Hard’ isn’t going to change the world but it’s a sweet and entertaining film that is further proof that Netflix is single handedly keeping the rom-com genre alive.
Cast: Nina Dobrev, Jimmy O. Yang, Darren Barnet, Harry Shum Jr. Director: Hernán Jiménez Writers: Daniel Mackey & Rebecca Ewing Certificate: Duration: Released by: Netflix Release date: 5th November 2021