Did you know that 90% of the people who watch a Netflix rom-com on a weekend are actually bored to death and confused about what to pick? Or, that 4789 people out of every 10 thousand Netflix watchers are actually really tired of these mediocre romcoms every year but can’t help watching them out of habit? Don’t worry; I made up these stats because I am moved to believe that anything I write about Vanessa Caswill’s latest directorial feature, Love at First Sight (2023), needs to be justified by random, unfounded statistics to be able to prove my point. Based on Jennifer E. Smith’s novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, this Netflix rom-com will be a 90 minutes-long test of patience.
Hadley Sullivan (played by Haley Lu Richardson) is a 20-year-old young adult traveling to London for her father’s wedding but misses her flight by 4 minutes. Now, she is waiting to board the next flight to London when she meets Oliver (played by Ben Hardy) at the terminal’s charging point. Hadley and Oliver hit it off with each other right from the start as they decide to eat airport food before boarding the same flight to London.
Oliver is traveling to attend his still-alive mother’s Shakespeare-themed memorial party back home. They head towards their individual destinations and try to get back to their lives, but both of them are still stuck in the moments they spent together in the air. So, Hadley and Oliver must now choose to come back to each other over the course of a single day so that they can profess their love to each other. Are they successful in the end? Awash in neon pinks and littered with Shakespeare and Charles Dickens references, I ardently wished they wouldn’t run headlong into “love” JUST LIKE THAT!
Jameela Jalil plays the many avatars of Lady Luck our protagonists are going to encounter on their fateful day. She simultaneously reads out the statistics around falling in love, out of love, walking away from love, and so on, in her crisp British accent throughout the film like it is the annual report presentation of a firm at the end of a financial year. The latter is the highlight of the movie because it focuses on the fact that despite the many possibilities of not ending up together, our protagonists make choices – albeit facilitated by fate – that bring them together in the end.
Perhaps these choices also lead to the construct of love. It is the third-person narration that hinders this idea from being effectively communicated to its audience. Had we been left to experience the story from the self-proclaimed math geek Oliver’s POV, it would have been fascinating to watch his distaste towards surprises and insistence on numerical data backing for everything crumble under the weight of a life-changing experience.
Besides, Hadley and Oliver are character sketches that have not been well fleshed out. We learn about the three things they each fear, a few other meager pieces of information (like their favorite animal and color), and the current event that bolsters both of them toward London, but literally, nothing else about these characters is known.
The conflict at the heart of the film’s subplots, whether it’s parental affection or how one reacts to a fatal disease, is given so little consideration that they won’t move you to any realizations. For instance, it is broached that Oliver shares a difficult relationship with his siblings because they grew up differently. Still, nothing about their behavior around each other remotely suggests a tension that they may otherwise share. In fact, they seem to be regular bickering siblings in public.
I remember watching Serendipity (2001) by Peter Chelsom and breathing a massive sigh of relief when Sara Thomas and John Crager finally find each other on Christmas Day as they had once promised. Love at First Sight (2023) probably aims for the same kind of audience reaction. But not even Hardy’s charming delivery of his dialogues in a thick British accent can save it from low grunts and groans by the end.
It is too concentrated with pedantic data to be taken seriously, if at all. Most importantly, it is only September. It is a month and a half away from the time of the year when Christmas-themed romcoms will finally start to feel snowy and magical again! If you have something better to watch this weekend, I suggest you check the stats with Jamil before deciding to spend your time watching a mathematically challenging young adult romance.