‘Love Hard’ is hard to watch, offering not much to love

photo from Netflix's Love Hard

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

Despite currently being one of the most popular movies on Netflix, “Love Hard” remains a cheesy take on classic rom-coms with its predictable plot, offering very few surprises that deviate from other romantic comedy tropes. While it’s almost painstakingly generic, this Christmas love story provides just enough satisfaction for audiences this holiday season.

“Love Hard” follows optimistic Los Angeles writer Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev) as she struggles to find her soulmate via online dating sites. After years of failed dates and chronicling them on her online column, she finally matches with Josh (Jimmy O. Yang), a seemingly perfect 30-something-year-old man passionate about life, the outdoors and traveling. Through frequently texting on the dating app, they bond over their intense opinions on “Love Actually”; Natalie criticizes the rom-com for focusing on how “people falling in love based on how they look,” which serves as a somewhat clever foreshadowing for the couple’s eventual in-person meeting.

Infatuated despite having only texted with him for a month, Natalie decides to surprise Josh for Christmas in New York: Conflict ensues once she arrives and finds out that she has been catfished. Of course, because it’s a romantic comedy, a risky deal is sealed: If Natalie helps Josh please his disappointed parents by pretending to be his girlfriend until the holidays are over, Josh will score her a date with his friend Tag (​​Darren Barnet), the actual man he used photos of for his online profile. With one white lie leading to another, this plan eventually spirals out of control, a precarious setup that offers equal parts comedy and embarrassment.

From homebody Natalie pretending to like hobbies such as rock climbing and hiking to Josh using facades on online dating sites to conceal his self-abasement about unpopularity, “Love Hard” portrays how inauthenticity only results in horrendous emotional aftermath. The film’s message of staying genuine and true to oneself is unbelievably cheesy, but the plot does occasionally tug at some heartstrings through some surprisingly sweet scenes.

The film also extends this theme of authenticity beyond romance, turning to briefly focus on career passions by depicting Josh’s candle-making passion at odds with his father’s vision for his future. While this subplot is a step in the right direction, this attempt is ultimately underdeveloped, requiring more exploration of the outdated — but still everpresent — parental expectations of what defines a proper career based on gender stereotypes.

Everyone universally struggles with being genuine and feeling comfortable in their own skin, and “Love Hard” reminds viewers that authenticity is always the best route to take. However, the film’s extraordinarily dull character development makes this truthful but cheesy message difficult to take seriously; while Natalie and Josh predictably realize that being true to oneself is essential to lead content lives, their character development is so uninteresting and dry that the film remains bland. The film could have spiced up its character development by more powerfully highlighting when characters step outside their comfort zones or confront unfair expectations, yet “Love Hard” fails to go beyond the trope of an attractive girl falling for a nerdy boy.

While “Love Hard” includes the aspects necessary to be a romantic comedy, the plot ultimately falters due to its formulaic tendencies and poorly executed comedic timing. Many scenes feel more awkward and embarrassing than entertaining, offering viewers secondhand embarrassment rather than a hearty laugh.

“Love Hard” is ridiculously generic, but it might just be enough to get viewers into the spirit of the upcoming holiday season — love and embarrassment galore.

Contact Erica Jean at [email protected].