HBO Max’s ‘Love Life’ Is Another Humorously Melancholy Look at Millennial Dating Woes
The new streaming behemoth HBO Max gets into the millennial rom-com game with “Love Life,” a somewhat personalized anthology series. Following a different protagonist each season, from their first to final relationship. It is yet another lament for how people despair over finding the right partner, or just general affection. Anna Kendrick, in a role that proves she has the presence to carry season one, becomes our latest tour guide through the tricky corridors of the heart.
Darby (Kendrick) lives in New York City with a comfortable job in the city’s elite museum world. She has also had the good luck of finding decent roommates, Sara (Zoe Chao) and Mallory (Sasha Compère). What Darby can’t find is a real boyfriend. Since she was a small girl, and through adolescence, she has wondered what it would be like to have a serious, committed partner who she can love, and who can return that love. With each episode Darby meets a prospect, falls for them and then faces heartbreak. Modern dating is not easy these days. There’s Augie (Jin Ha), who writes for Politico and connects with Darby, until he gets a job offer where he would have to move. Former boss Bradley (Scoot McNairy) might offer a slightly older, more mature option, but with him Darby becomes more of a catering girlfriend than an equal partner. The list goes on with former high school crushes and surprise hook-ups that leave Darby wondering if you can genuinely bond with anyone in the 21st century.
Created by Sam Boyd, unsurprisingly the writer of “In a Relationship,” with maverick producer Paul Feig co-producing with Kendrick, “Love Life” has a slick indie cinema look and quick pace. But much of it feels like another well-shot date we have been on many times before. It borrows the formula of movies like “500 Days of Summer” where a character’s relatable yet mundane lifespan takes on the form of nostalgic, melancholy chapters. For example Darby’s love woes are traced back to her childhood when she would be shy around another boy at school, or the emotional complexities of having grown up with separated parents. Episodes begin with a narrator giving us some quick facts on dating and romance in terms of divorce percentages, or the average number of relationships people have before settling down. The fun of this kind of show can be that it captures how for anybody a first date can take on the nerve-wrecking feel of skydiving without an instructor. The writing in “Love Life” also convincingly captures to precision the lingo of professional millennials. Everyone talks with careful, “woke” manners and feigned niceness. Darby has the confused look of someone walking around a rom-com baffled as to why romance in the real world does not necessarily work like a movie.
Where “Love Life” falters is in attempting to stretch this concept out into a fully anthology that simply feels like that friend who spends every hang out going through their dating history. There is not much of a wider idea to Darby’s journey. The dates themselves are not in themselves all that intriguing. We wonder why Darby falls so hard for Augie when he is a complete bore most of the time. For a Politico writer he never has anything to say about politics or the wider world. By the time he has to leave town for his new job (which one has to wonder how he qualified), there is little sympathy for Darby’s devastation. Bradley is more engaging but by the end of this episode is reduced to being nearly a man-child.
Many readers will of course be able to nod their heads at these descriptions, no doubt remembering past dates that ended the exact same way. Yet “Love Life” never goes beyond merely charting someone’s bad romances with the mundane environment of your average Facebook post. It lacks the zest of “Sex and the City” or boldness of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” When Bradley’s mother dies and Darby gets very drunk at her funeral, giving an embarrassing speech as a result, then the show finally gets a little more verve. Anna Kendrick is an actor with an intelligent presence, and she proves here she has what it takes to carry a comedy. If the material later allows her to explore edgier territory Kendrick will no doubt deliver something truly memorable.
If “Love Life” aims to be rom-com therapy for the love sick, then its tone might serve well those who want to sit down with pestering memories and a bucket of ice cream (everyone has been there at some point). As a purely dramatic-comedy experience it has a promising premise, but hopefully it will begin to go even deeper than just the frustrations of millennial mating rituals.
“Love Life” season one begins streaming May 27 with new episodes premiering every Thursday on HBO Max.