From December 1 to December 25, people all over prep for the holidays by watching Christmas movies, often where characters in their picture-perfect Christmas towns stumble upon “the one.” Netflix’s new film, Love Hard, follows this same overused formula.
Like many Christmas rom-com protagonists, LA writer Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev, famous for her roles in The Vampire Diaries and Degrassi) has had terrible luck in the love department. Fortunately for her, she uses her lacking love life to her advantage. Her awful dates fuel her writing, which is her full-time career. She writes for the column, Always A Bridesmaid, under a pseudonym she also uses to match with guys on dating apps, leading to some truly horrendous dates.
Natalie can’t believe her luck when she matches with model-hot Josh Lin (Jimmy O. Yang), with whom she immediately forms a close connection. The issue? They’re dating long-distance and have yet to see each other face-to-face. So Natalie decides to surprise Josh for Christmas at his house…only to discover she’s been catfished.
Natalie’s reaction is, well, priceless. She’s filled with the appropriate amount of rage and confusion you would expect after such a discovery. The awkward encounter of the two seeing each other IRL, especially with the buildup of Natalie meeting Josh’s parents at the house first, only doubles the drama.
Both Natalie and Josh are well-rounded characters. Both have fears and insecurities, and because of that deep characterization, it’s easy to root for them. For Natalie, she’s terrified of showing her true self in person. When Josh introduces Natalie to the real Tag (played by Never Have I Ever’s Darren Barnet), who feels extremely guilty for catfishing her, Natalie has trouble fully opening up to him. She lies about what she likes, pretending to share his interests, like rock climbing, so he might like her back.
The scene at the rock climbing wall is among the best. There’s Natalie, hilariously trying to ignore her fear of heights and hiding it from Tag. Josh is also present and the scene gives an up-close look at the growing bond between him and Natalie.
The film has a familiar message found in many other rom-coms, drilling that love is more than physical attraction. What if “the one” was someone different than what you had fantasized, and the person you thought you knew was just an artifice? The film explores these relevant questions through its attention to basic chemistry.
Then there’s the deeply insecure Josh. Theoretically, the way he catfished Natalie should make you hate him, but learning how he feels invisible invokes a surprising amount of warmth and sympathy toward his character.
Love Hard can be quite hilarious—couples balancing fake relationships often has that effect. The film handles the fake relationship trope charmingly. At times, the film does take some glaring plot shortcuts, such as when a character magically knows exactly where to go at just the right moment in order for the plot to advance. It’s as if the screenwriters left out key explanations in order to shorten the runtime at the expense of logic, and it’s hard to miss.
So yes, Love Hard is no doubt, yet another generic Christmas movie. The small town is buried in snow, there’s the standard caroling, and we sit through a bunch of predictable romance. But that’s only to be expected.
While I didn’t have high expectations coming into the film, as one shouldn’t set the bar too high when purposefully catching a cheesy Christmas rom-com, I did find myself enjoying the romance set during the wonderful Christmastime. The acting is also great; Nina Dobrev and Darren Barnet, best known for their work in teen shows, display their versatile acting skills quite nicely in what is ultimately a laid back, low-stakes holiday movie.
And Love Hard might just leave you warm and mushy inside. If you enjoy the familiar comfort-food recipe of modern Christmas rom-coms, you should consider adding Love Hard to your Netflix queue in preparation for this upcoming season.
Love Hard is available to stream on Netflix. Watch the trailer here.