The 2021 Netflix Romantic Comedy ‘Love Hard’ starts the exact same way as the 2020 coming-of-age tale ‘The Half Of It’ (another Netflix original). The protagonists talk about the Greek legend of how humans were originally created with four legs/arms and two faces, but were split into two by Zeus, so that they would spend the rest of their lives finding their other half. In-fact, right from start to finish, this film directed by Hernan Jimenez has a lot of scenes inspired from a bunch of different movies.

Plot overview: Nina Dobrev plays Natalie Bauer, a Los Angeles based journalist who writes a column (à la Carrie Bradshaw from ‘Sex in the City’) chronicling her disastrous online dating life under a pseudonym. Things change when a colleague expands her radius on the dating app. Natalie swipes right on an Asian-American guy called Josh Lin who seems just her type, but lives on the other side of the country. Convinced this could be her ‘happy ending’, Natalie flies to the east-coast to surprise Josh on Christmas, only to learn she has been catfished. What follows next is a predictable story about how Natalie tries to turn-around her situation and have a great dating write-up for her column before her next deadline.

To be fair, ‘Love Hard’ does have a decent amount of fun moments, with a fresh take on certain plot-lines. For example, except for the fact that they look Asian, Josh Lin’s family is American in every way, there is close to zero racial stereotype attached to them. The character of Josh’s grandmother was hilarious, she is the ‘cool’ granny who wants to get on a dating app and have her fun. Jimmy O. Yang is adorable as Josh, a well-read, nerdy, introverted guy, who is insecure about his appearance, so he resorts to using pictures of his handsome friend Tag (Darren Barnet) on the dating app. It was a nice change to not have a douche-y villain in the tale. Tag is the romantic rival, but instead of being the usual over-the-top jock jerk, he is just someone who has different interests than Natalie. Harry Shum Jr has an entertaining little cameo as Josh’s older attention-seeking brother and it was a delight to watch his immature onscreen antics. Nina as Natalie doesn’t stand out, her character is inconsistent, she is a hypocrite who is all hot & bothered about being lied to, but doesn’t mind having a host of fake hobbies to attract a hot guy. Also, there’s the ridiculous bit of her staying with her catfish, even though she constantly asserts how she ‘doesn’t trust him’. You sure babe?

What a lot of viewers might not like is how the makers sort of sugar-coat catfishing in the film. For the uninitiated, ‘catfish’ is the term for people who fake their identity online to start a relationship or to commit some sort of fraud. Catfishing is quite common (MTV has a whole reality show for it) and maybe only 1 out of a 100 turn out to be decent human beings like Josh, most others need therapy, or worse – prison time. But well, since it’s a romantic-comedy, our catfish is obviously a cute dude with mild self-esteem issues. There’s a lot of ‘be your authentic self’ talk thrown around in the script, to drive home the point that faking an identity is not a good thing, but it’s overdone. In-fact, this movie feels dragged out in parts and could’ve easily been shortened by at least 15-minutes.

The cinematography is well-done, some of the areal shots of the snow-covered towns were gorgeous. I felt like the Christmas decorations were a little too flashy, but for a festive romantic-comedy “Hard Love” probably packs in the right about of shiny lights. There’s even some entertaining caroling by the Lin family and an enjoyable modern rendition of the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, its lyrics are changed to make the man sound like a courteous gentleman who doesn’t pressure his date to stay back at his place.

Despite a foreseeable climax, where a very famous scene is recreated, the ending actually feels heartwarming. Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang pull off a sweet ending, and even though their chemistry isn’t crackling, it’s cute enough to not feel like a downer. It’s a 6/10 from me.

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