Netflix’s newest rom-com adaptation surprises and delights, a rarity among its peers.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
As an avid consumer of romance—be it in book, film, or television format—you learn to level expectations when a beloved story is adapted. That’s particularly the case amongst the recent spate of mid-to-low budget adaptations across the gamut of streaming services. Usually, the best-case scenario is they’re mildly enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. For example, there’s Prime Video’s recent adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue. More often than not, they’re absolutely dreadful. The less said about Netflix’s take on Austen’s Persuasion, the better. What is true, though, is that they’re very seldom genuinely good.
That’s what makes Love at First Sight so refreshing. Directed by Vanessa Caswill and adapted for Netflix by To All The Boys: Always and Forever writer Katie Lovejoy, Love at First Sight is chockablock with romcom callbacks and homages. Flavors of Before Sunrise, Love, Actually, Sliding Doors, and the tragically overlooked Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle Simply Irresistible are all sampled. Still, it remains very much its own contained story without being too trope-heavy. It’s sweet, breezy, and, best of all, surprising.
On paper, it’s all very straightforward. Flighty English Lit major Hadley (Haley Lu Richardson) misses her plane to London by four minutes, forcing her on a later flight. There, she shares a seat with charming aspiring statistician Oliver (Ben Hardy). Over the course of the six-hour flight, the pair flirt, bond, and begin to fall for one another. It’s all a little too good to be true, as these things usually are.
Hadley and Oliver could have easily been cardboard cutouts of the stereotypes they resemble: the almost-manic pixie dream girl and the stodgy British maths nerd. Thankfully, Lovejoy and Caswill have taken pains to give these two walking archetypes some real depth, emotion, and agency. Hadley isn’t zany for the sake of it. Her perpetual capriciousness hides some real pain stemming from her father’s (Rob Delaney) seeming abandonment to his new life in England. Meanwhile, Oliver is not as stodgy as initially presented. He uses his love of numbers to make sense of the world and his truly bonkers acting troupe family. Richardson and Hardy beautifully imbue Hadley and Oliver with sparkling chemistry and incredibly tender pathos.
It’s sweet, breezy, and, best of all, surprising.
Romance works better if it stings a little. As a result, there’s plenty of emotional uncertainty packed into the 90-minute runtime, from Hadley trying to parse her relationship with her father to Oliver coming to terms with his mother’s terminal cancer. Much of Love at First Sight hinges on the twin acts of holding on and letting go, of finding the maturity required to genuinely love another person selflessly. Hadley’s father helps her along. For all his faults, he truly loves his daughter and his new life. Meanwhile, Oliver can only get there by accepting his mother’s (Sally Phillips) wishes and his father’s (the always-enjoyable Dexter Fletcher) loving support of her choices.
If there is one black mark I can (and fully intend to) give Love at First Sight, it would be the framing device of Jameela Jamil’s statistics-heavy, fairy godmother voiceover, repeated in different guises throughout the movie. It’s clunky, unnecessary, and sure to turn some viewers away. A crab successfully performed this role in the aforementioned Simply Irresistible. If you can’t afford to hire a Drag Queen to play your fairy godmother (seriously, was Lawrence Chaney booked that week?), maybe leave them out altogether.
Love at First Sight gets bumped and takes the voucher September 15 on Netflix.