In Hard Love, dating disaster Natalie(Nina Dobrev) makes a living writing a column called Always a Bridesmaid. Determined to break her swipe wrong trend she flies to meet an East Coast Asian American dude named Josh (Jimmy O. Yang) to discovered she’s been catfished. In this cringe-worthy rom-com which is currently number one on Netflix, Josh will eventually get the girl providing all the wrong messages. The film’s minor redeeming aspect is presenting men of East Asian descent as attractive partners.
At work, Natalie’s miserable love life leaves her boss, Lee (Matty Finochio), happy. “Remember a disaster for you is a hit for me.”
Her friend Kerry (Heather McMahan) notes the problem isn’t necessarily the guys; It’s Natalie herself. Natalie counters that it’s “LA assholes.” But Natalie limits herself to a five-mile radius which in Los Angeles is crazy. Kerry resets the geographical range to the whole continental US and soon enough Natalie meets Josh.
Josh supposedly lives on the East Coast, travels and likes the outdoors. Natalie would like to travel and isn’t particularly outdoorsy, but she strikes up an online conversation. His favorite Christmas film is Love, Actually. Hers is Die Hard. Despite this seeming mismatch, they continue to exchange messages, but without any Zoom or FaceTime meetings. Josh makes an off-hand comment that he wishes they could spend Christmas together. Natalie decides to fly across country, unannounced, and drop in to surprise Josh.
As you can see in the trailer, she soon realizes that Josh has been catfishing her, but soon discovers the man from the photo, Tag (Darren Barnet) really lives in the same town. Josh knows Tag. To get her happy ending, she agrees to pretend to be Josh’s girlfriend to his father Bob (James Saito), obnoxious attention-seeking brother Owen (Harry Shum Jr.), Owen’s wife Chelsea (Mikaela Hoover) and doting grandmother June (Althea Kaye), while Josh helps her get Tag’s attention.
Initially, I thought that Daniel Mackey and Rebecca Ewing’s script was attempting to address a real problem. In the swift swipe world of singles, Asian American men (and Black women) are the least desirable mates, even among gay men.
Yet the script attempts to assure viewers that Natalie is not racist. The casting also attempts to assure us that the problem isn’t racism. Owen is married to a person who doesn’t appear of be of Asian descent. The father, Bob, has remarried a White woman, Barb. Tag is played by a Japanese hapa.
Natalie’s actual problem is she wants the guy she has nothing in common with and is willing to “catfish” in person. Her willingness to lie pushes her into silly situations and this is the foundation of the film’s humor.
What’s good about Love Hard is that it shows that you don’t even have to have a good script to make a number one show with male leads of Asian descent. Love Hard doesn’t have sexual situations or violence like another number one series with Asian leads, Squid Game, so neither of those are necessary either.
Overall, I loved the presence of men of East Asian descent who were shown as attractive and loving partners, but I found the script cringe-worthy and director Hernán Jiménez gives us ample opportunity to see all the horrific details of Natalie’s romantic wrecks. The film seems to tell us that it is okay for a man to be physically attracted to a woman and catfish her before reeling her in, but it is not okay for a woman to pretend to be something she’s not and women should be more interested in a guy’s personality.
If you take joy in watching other people be embarrassed, this might be the holiday film for you. I’d rather watch Die Hard again.
To read a longer version of this review or to see the complete Love Hard lyrics to Baby, It’s Cold Outside, visit my blog.
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