Catfished on Christmas: A stale slice of cake by Netflix

Just when you think the internet is getting repetitive with conversations around online dating and the many buzzwords (ghosting, gasp), we are thrown a classic dating fail trope— catfishing.  With a title that has nothing to do with the premise of the film, Love Hard is Netflix’s latest response to single gal Christmas.

A giant cesspool of disappointment masquerading as a feel-good film, Love Hard titillates and cheers you when you’re about three glasses of wine down and about to do questionable things (drunk texting a man you are in a love/hate situationship with). However, the film itself doesn’t inspire you much, it falls so hard on its face that you won’t even be inspired to download a dating app by the end of it.

My platonic friend told me this fact during a Christmas party and it wasn't edgy a decade ago, and definitely isn't edgy now.

Love Hard tries to appear edgy and cool with Easter eggs including references to other rom-coms and chick flicks and even brings in conversations about Die Hard as the protagonist’s favourite Christmas movie. Perhaps it’s just me, I didn’t find it edgy, or perhaps cause I sustain a platonic friendship with a man who conveyed the same about Die Hard to me when we were talking about holiday plans.

Somehow, this conversation around “Die Hard” as a “Christmas” favourite appears so central to the plot and the protagonist that she chooses to share this information with every guy she fancies and even gets dumped over this information. For this, she's dissed in a room full of strangers. I don't know how to convey this any better but whoever thought this is edgy, really needs to go out and touch the grass.

Natalie (Nina Dobrev) is a full-time dating enthusiast who moonlights as a writer for her day job. She covers something of a "dating disasters” section; a regular column that pays her to write about shitty dates and lack of options.

No, for real, we are asked to believe someone is just expected to go on dates and exploit their single life in 2021, and that happens to be their main gig. Sister, writer to writer, which publication is this? Do they take remote writers? Please hook me up.

This, right here, is where my list of grouse begins. We had folks in early dating app years (2013-2014) write about their dates, chronicling their time with different men on their night outs and starting a conversation around the subject. Even in a country like India, these blogs came to prominence. However, if you tell me this is a job that is a) employable by a publication in 2021, and b) pays as a full-time gig with the writer literally just doing dates and columns, I will roll my eyes. The premise itself is so hard to believe, you start to wonder what train wreck disaster is next. Of course, my wine hadn’t kicked in by then.

As the film progressed, I became progressively drunk and found it in my heart to not hate on this as much as I did. Perhaps, I should consider invoicing the writers (Danny Mackey and Rebecca Ewing) for a bottle of Rosé or for putting me through this on a night when I was celebrating personal milestones. No, I’m not getting paid to write about going on a date but Natalie Bauer surely did.

Traversing through the apps, Natalie stumbles upon Josh Lin (Jimmy O. Yang). Josh’s fine-looking, talks well and gets her (literally the only thing that truly matters on dating apps). Her friend tells her what any level-headed person would say, he’s too good to be true and implores her to take this to the next level— ask him for his photographs and talk over the phone, y’know to verify if he’s all that he claims to be.

Photographs are exchanged and voice calls are done; he’s bee's knees and our girl Natalie is a smitten kitten. Over one such call, he politely signs off with, “Wish you were here for Christmas”.

No, Natalie.

With a little nudge from her friend, Natalie flies out to see him for Christmas. “Surprise!” she claims, to his family, after reaching his house (not weird at all, he invited her to join him). The family looks stoked to see her and it’s all too good to be true. He finally shows up— a dorky dude— who looks nothing like the photographs he had shared.

At this point, any normal person would book themselves the first flight out and stick around at the airport or a hotel and cry buckets of tears to their friend who asked them to travel to meet the guy. Natalie, however, isn't normal. She finds it in her heart to hit a local watering hole, where she stumbles on the guy in the photograph Josh sent. Tag (Darren Barnet) exists for real as "photograph Josh" and now she's advised by the friend to pursue him and bang it out before she returns. This is followed by a karaoke performance, an allergy reaction and she’s rescued by catfish Josh, who explains his dorkiness and the act of photoshop and pleads her to stick around till Christmas, in order for him to win his family over (the flex of having a girlfriend is real). In return, he would help set her up with photograph Josh (can we call him Tag please?)

The rest of the film is a fine balance between Josh and Natalie doing things and Tag and Natalie doing things until a big reveal for everyone at Josh and Natalie's engagement party— Lin family realizing Natalie isn’t dating Josh, Natalie’s pesky boss figuring she’s not written a single word on the piece she promised him about Josh, and Tag realizing Natalie herself is pretending to be someone else while getting engaged to Josh. This is also where Tag dumps her publically after dissing on Die Hard.

If the plot has confused you with all that's happening, let me confirm that the film carries elements from the following rom-coms— Love Actually, When Harry Met Sally, Roxanne, 27 Dresses, Crazy Rich Asians— and these are just the names from the top of my head that I remember thinking when I was inebriated. If I actually stream the film in all seriousness, I’m fairly certain, this will be a banger to work on.

There’s only so much you can add to a film but the team that worked on Love Hard really said, “challenge accepted”. The film includes EVERYTHING you can imagine. The screenplay has Christmas, dating apps, swipe culture, beauty standards, sibling rivalry, writers writing their lives, late bloomers and jocks, family bonding, community service and faith. Might as well have shown how Natalie and Josh were conceived and died.

To the credit of the film, I will say, it feels like a nice gesture falling flat on its face. Imagine your colleague telling you she and her husband have baked you their holiday special rum cake, only for you to receive a loaf of lard sprinkled with expired booze-soaked raisins. Not to say it isn’t a cake, some Keto enthusiast somewhere would jump to have, but it isn’t what you want, and it definitely isn’t a Christmas cake.

Love Hard slaps exactly as hard as a Keto Christmas cake would. What do you expect to be served when you add dating apps to Christmas and make a whole damn film about it? Disappointment, not with the plot, but with the way media executives think dating and romance really pan out IRL. There was every intention to be warm and fuzzy but it failed, which means you have to grin and bear.  

Most other things including music were forgettable. Actors performed whatever little was expected but the whole performance resembled some kind of caricature act going around, especially the arc surrounding Josh’s brother, Owen Lin (Harry Shum Jr.). It could have been the screenplay but a lot of it seemed amplified and extra and could have been done without.

It took me four real attempts to recall the title of the film while trying to talk and write about— maybe it was the wine, or maybe the relevance of the title to the premise— but a petition to name films better, please?

 The series is available for streaming on Netflix in India.

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Anisha Saigal

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Pop-culture omnivore. Survived publishing, academia, film school. Struggling with the pandemic.