Love at First Sight (2023)
Director: Vanessa Caswill
Screenwriter: Katie Lovejoy
Starring: Haley Lu Richardson, Ben Hardy, Jameela Jamil, Sally Phillips, Rob Delaney, Dexter Fletcher, Tom Taylor
Over the past decade, there has been a revival within the Romance genre. While there are large-scale, sweeping romances on the big screen such as Past Lives and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, streaming services such as Netflix have also had a hand in the upward trend, with their many original rom-coms, from Christmas movies of the Hallmark ilk (The Princess Switch, Falling for Christmas), to teen novel adaptations like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.
The latest in the collection is Netflix’s Love At First Sight, which arrived on the service on the 15th of September 2023. Starring Haley Lu Richardson and Ben Hardy in the most classic of meet cutes, this film offers a warm and welcome addition to the genre.
Richardson stars as Hadley Sullivan, a 20-year-old New Yorker on the way to her father’s second wedding in London. Unfortunately, she has just missed her flight. And her phone’s dead (as we discover it often is). As she waits in the airport lounge looking for a charger, it is here that she meets Hardy’s Oliver Jones, a 22-year-old Londoner studying at NYU. He’s also heading to London on that next flight. He’s organised with a phone charger. The pair connect over the course of their seven-hour flight to London, an easy repartee flowing between them that takes both of them by surprise. As they touch down in London, each with family commitments to fulfil, they cannot let the thought of each other go, and so begins an emotional trek across the city as they seek to reconnect.
Based on the novel, “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight” by Jennifer Smith, it is a film that is seemingly obsessed with statistics. In fact, it regularly lays them out for us, often by way of Jameela Jamil’s omnipresent narrator character (no seriously, she’s everywhere). And while narration can often grate, in this case it adds a touch of the nostalgic, her opening narration discussing the statistics of airports at Christmas immediately drawing parallels with the opening sequence of another classic holiday romance, Love Actually. Jamil’s narrator is the one who not only sets the scene, but offers an insight into who Hadley and Oliver are. Within the first five minutes, she has told us both of their top three fears, and why, as well as a brief summary of their family backgrounds.
With the extensive narration, it could be easy for Love at First Sight to fall into the trap of telling rather than showing, but the casting helps significantly to ensure that this isn’t the case. Haley Lu Richardson brings all of the quirky charm that made her a fan favourite in last year’s second season of ‘The White Lotus’. Meanwhile, Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody) brings a distinct British awkwardness, as well as a genuineness that matches Richardson’s warmth measure for measure. The chemistry between them is natural, meaning that even when their dialogue lacks, there is still great joy in watching them together. In supporting roles as the parents, Rob Delaney, Sally Phillips and Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher aren’t given much to work with, but help to make Hadley and Oliver’s characters feel more lived in. In particular, Oliver’s family dynamics form the emotional centre, helping to ground the film. Whilst only a side character, Tom Taylor as Oliver’s brother Luther is an incredibly accurate depiction of young British men.
As aforementioned, the family relationships are key in making this film something more than just a standard rom-com. Without this narrative element, the film would struggle to find meaning, even if the ‘opposites-attract’ central dynamic is cute. It’s not particularly profound, and certainly functions as a bit of heartwarming fun rather than as a film to reflect on once the credits roll. However, it’s clear that director Vanessa Caswill and screenwriter Katie Lovejoy are keenly aware of this, and seek not to make this a subversive number in the genre, but gleefully follow the tropes to the letter. Whether it’s the classic miscommunication, the race across the city to confess feelings, or even just a girl in a nice dress paired with trainers, Love at First Sight knows that if a formula isn’t broken, don’t fix it. A soundtrack full of acoustic pop always helps.
It’s a simplistic narrative, but on the shoulders of its two stars Netflix have served up another cute rom-com that makes for a delightful cosy movie night, even if it won’t be returned to afterwards. Richardson is definitely the highlight, continuing a streak in her career that shows that she is a promising, up-and-coming talent, not just in the indie sphere, but in the mainstream. Its script is cliché, but is wholesome enough to bring a smile to even a cynic’s face, if just for 90 minutes. It might have worked better as a Christmas release though!
Written by Rehana Nurmahi
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