Love Hard, by Albert W. Vogt III

In my quest to watch as many Christmas movies as possible in this eponymous season, I seem to be running out of the big ones.  Let me check: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), done; Miracle on 34th Street (1947), yes; A Christmas Story (1983), uh-huh; The Santa Clause (1994), ho-ho-ho; Elf (2003), you betcha.  There are others, of course, but this a good representation of some of the major titles.  This results in a cinematic journey of scrolling further through lists of films search on either Amazon Prime or Netflix, hoping for something interesting.  There are times when you get tired of toggling, see a movie, think “meh,” and put it on.  This recently was the case for Love Hard, though the experience was better than I anticipated.

Love Hard, despite the way it is presented on Netflix, does not immediately give Christmas vibes.  Instead, you are introduced to Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev), a content creator for an online publication, her column for which is about her disastrous dating life.  Her co-worker and friend Kerry (Heather McMahan) suggests that the reason she keeps meeting all the wrong guys through her dating app is because she is drawing men from the same awful group of people.  Intrigued, she decides to widen her search parameters, and soon finds a guy named Tag (Darren Barnet) with whom she feels a deep connection.  They spend a great deal of time communicating with each other, Natalie taking the steps she feels necessary to make sure Tag is worth it before meeting him.  Eventually, she travels across the country from Los Angeles to where Tag lives in Lake Placid, New York, to surprise him in the days leading up to Christmas.  When she arrives at his house, she discovers that something is not right.  Instead of the vaguely non-white, chiseled features of Tag, she meets the decidedly less athletic Josh Lin (Jimmy O. Yang).  In short, she had been catfished.  Josh had impersonated his friend Tag on the dating app, thinking that no woman would want to go out with Josh if they knew how he actually looked. Unsurprisingly, Natalie is disturbed, and storms off to the nearest bar to get drunk.  Once there, though, she sees the real Tag.  When Josh catches up with her, in order to make amends for his lies, he agrees to help her get the much more attractive Tag.  There is one catch: she must agree to be his girlfriend for the holidays.  This is not a scenario with which she is pleased, but she so desires to break the cycle of the awful string of dates she has had that she goes along with the charade.  In turn, she has to put on her own façade for the vegetarian, rock climbing, Henry David Thoreau loving, and non-Christmas celebrating Tag.  On the surface, and the surface is desirable for Natalie as well, these are all traits that would be desirable in a partner.  Unfortunately, they are all characteristics that do not match with her.  Hence, while she pretends to be the girlfriend Josh’s parents always wanted for their son, she is trying to become the girlfriend of somebody she should want.  For his part, Josh is enjoying their little game, perhaps too much.  Some of this stems from the rivalry he has with his more successful older brother Owen (Harry Shum Jr.).  While Josh has plodded into adulthood, working for his dad, Bob (James Saito), and still living in the basement, Owen has moved on, attained some wealth as a businessman, and married a beautiful woman, Chelsea (Mikaela Hoover).  Owen also holds his status over Josh’s head whenever he comes to visit.  Thus, in an attempt to steal the spotlight for himself for a change, he asks Grandma June (Althea Kaye) for her wedding ring and proposes to Natalie.  This is clearly an unexpected turn, but because she remains determined to get with Tag and have a normal relationship, she continues to go along with it.  It becomes too much when the Lins decide to throw a surprise engagement party, to which much of the town, including Tag, is invited to attend.  Seeing no alternative, Natalie decides to reveal the truth to a stunned gathering.  She leaves in embarrassment and attempts to get out of Lake Placid as soon as possible.  However, while sitting in a hotel room waiting for her flight the next day, and writing about her latest escapade, she opens her dating app and finds Josh’s new profile containing his genuine image.  In this moment, she realizes that she had developed feelings for Josh, and goes back to him to apologize.

With apologies, there is nothing too original about Love Hard, either as a stand-alone piece of cinema or of the Christmas variety.  It is a romantic comedy, and it borrows (one might say rips-off) other examples like Love Actually (2003).  One good lesson it drives home, though, is the importance of honesty.  There are so many beautiful Bible passages regarding honesty and its fruits, but for brevity’s sake I will sum it up in one simple reminder: God sees all.  Now, that might sound scary.  If it does, perhaps you are feeling guilty about something you are doing, or have done?  Another thing to remember about God’s omnipotence is that He is a loving God, slow to anger and quick to forgive, as it says elsewhere in Scripture.  Most of the time, unfortunately, we seem to reverse those two concepts.  This is what leads to lying.  Whether we see this in a Faith sense or otherwise, we obfuscate the truth because we fear the punishment.  For Natalie, her initial thought of taking the cross-country trip is to prove her boss, Lee (Matt Finochio), wrong.  She believes she had found something in Tag, and even when it turned out to be a lie, she did not want to face possible firing.  Thus, she decided to play along with Josh in the hope that everything would work itself out with Tag.  There are some who would look at what happens to her as karma for her dishonesty.  To be sure, there is punishment for those who do not repent of their sins, but the grace of forgiveness trumps that outcome.  Besides, God does not operate on a sort of formulaic level that karma seems to imply, and is all love.  What it takes to experience that when we do sin is to make an honest confession, and that is what Natalie does in the end.

So, there you go with Love Hard.  It is fine.  I would not say it is anything special, and there is a bit of adult material in it, including some drug use, but you could do worse.  It is one of those movies that, if you are like me and you are scrolling through your streaming services, you might happen upon, shrug your shoulders, and take it in for the next hour and forty-five minutes.  If its lack of originality puts you to sleep during that time, I do not think anyone could blame you.  The holidays are a time when many have off of work, and yet we seem to fill that time with so many other things we have been putting off all year.  I know that is true for me.  In that case, enjoy your nap.

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