Former chubster and current dating disaster, Natalie(Nina Dobrev) lives in Los Angeles and makes a living writing a column called “Always a Bridesmaid.” Readers are eager to read about her romantic wrecks but Natalie is determined to break her swipe wrong trend only to be catfished by an East Coast Asian American dude named Josh (Jimmy O. Yang). This rom-com, “Love Hard,” is currently number one on Netflix, but sends all the wrong messages.
Her boss, Lee (Matty Finochio), takes sleazy glee in Natalie’s misery, saying, “Remember a disaster for you is a hit for me.”
Her friend Kerry (Heather McMahan) tells her the common denominator in her dating disaster is her. Natalie counters that it’s “LA assholes.” But Natalie has been making things difficult by limiting 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 lives on the East Coast and he 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 she could be there for Christmas. 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. According to Merriam-Webster, to catfish is “to deceive (someone) by creating a false personal profile online.” Consoling herself at the nearest bar, Natalie sees the man from the photo, Tag (Darren Barnet). Her attempt to get Tag’s attention ends with her recovering at a vet’s office, thanks to Josh’s intervention. There she agrees to pretend to be Josh’s girlfriend so 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.
- ‘Least Desirable’? How Racial Discrimination Plays Out In Online Dating
- Online Dating Is Harder for Asian Men. Here’s How Some Have Found Success
Yet the script attempts to assure viewers that Natalie is not racist. She slept with a man from Beijing and the sex was amazing. 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, or pretend she’s someone she’s not. With Dobrev’s Natalie has no truth she will not bend in order to become the perfect woman for the man she’s infatuated with–even though he’s a total stranger and only virtually known to her as presented for two week by Josh. (Yes. After only two weeks.)
That makes Natalie’s defense of “Die Hard” as the best Christmas movie seem contrived. Nothing in Natalie says a woman who either loves Bruce Willis or action films. Natalie is a woman who seems self-erasing in the face of her latest infatuation. Or she might really be better single. Certainly, there are men and women who, without an arranged marriage or some similar type of intervention, will remain single for the rest of their lives. That might be okay.
That’s not what Natalie or Josh want. Ultimately, even Lee doesn’t want that for Natalie. 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 situation nor violence like another number one series with Asian leads, “Squid Game.” “Squid Game” showed, just as did Bruce Lee’s 1972 “Fists of Fury” (精武門) and “The Way of the Dragon” (猛龍過江) and the Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (臥虎藏龍): Money-making films with lead actors of Asian descent don’t have to be in English.
Overall, I loved the presence of men of 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.
For the record and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a Pisces. My amateur interests in astrology lead me to feel that it is the Leo who typically needs to be the center of attention. My husband feels that “Die Hard” is a Christmas film and we watched it together. I have been to the actual hotel where it was filmed. My husband’s favorite Christmas film is “Love, Actually.” I prefer “A Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Sound of Music.”
I did write an essay in defense of Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán and the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
But in the end, I don’t trust Natalie’s judgment on men or movies or music. Natalie takes issue with a holiday favorite: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” And is almost forced to sing what she considers, “the sexual assault theme song.” (Consider that Natalie thinks this might be a great song for Bill Cosby, so I’m still waiting for others to please address the issue of Gilgamesh, in the “Eternals,” too.)
Josh assures her that he’ll make sure it “won’t sound to rapey.” Below are the lyrics.
“Love Hard” lyrics to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
I really can’t stay
No problem there’s the door
I’ve got to go away
I hear ya, say no more
This evening has been
so very nice
I hope you get home safe tonight
My mother will star to worry
Here’s my phone, give her a call
My father will be pacing the floor
Adios, say no more
So really I better scurry
I’ve seen saying that for a while
well, maybe just a half a drink more
Slowdown that’s quite a pour
The neighbors might think
It’s just my old friend Troy
Say, what’s in this drink?
It’s just Lemon LaCroix
I wish I knew how
To take a hint?
To break the spell
Do you know how to spell, “Farewell”?
I ought to say no, no, no
I’ll call you an Uber, they’re close
At least, I’m gonna say that I tried
I feel like you’re not trying at all
I really can’t stay
Well, maybe just go out
[Together] ‘Cause baby, it’s cold outside
Maybe just go outside