Amazon’s ‘Modern Love’ Captures the Small Details of Personal Connection

Amazon’s “Modern Love” opens at the end of a first date with the aptly titled “When the Doorman Is Your Main Man,” “Do you want to kiss me goodbye,” asks the woman (Cristin Milioti). Later, she sends the man an awkward text, then obsessively checks her phone waiting for a response. “He will not be calling you,” her doorman (Laurentiu Posa) candidly tells her.

Each half hour installment of the John Carney’s anthology romance series is inspired by a different real-life story from the New York Times column of the same name. Capturing the smallest details of personal connection that one might miss if they’re not paying close enough attention, “Modern Love” is anything but shy about wearing sentiment on its sleeve. The series isn’t designed to be a sensational rom-com and it isn’t concerned with blatantly breaking one’s heart either. 

Several of the episodes might result in one reaching for their phone to text that special someone they know they should (or shouldn’t) be contacting. But the show is also mature and patient enough to remind lovers to be mindful of their emotions at stake, to reflect and ask themselves why one might be feeling however they are feeling, and to answer that question before sending an impulsive message.

Matchmaking services, the internet, texting and “swiping” have completely changed the dating world. Appropriately, the second episode, “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist,” stars Catherine Keener as a reporter, prodding a young dating app entrepreneur (played by Dev Patel) to tell his story, to tell her the real reason he wants to create a program that can bring two strangers together. He’s initially resistant to the idea. “This isn’t your website manifesto,” she assures him, “Love is lots of things.” Sometimes, it feels like the screens we swipe make that easy to forget. “I can’t believe you reduced our relationship to a cold calculation,” another character says in another episode, but you reap what you sow, and that’s what dating apps have wrought.

“Modern Love’s third and fourth episodes are bursting with talent, but the acting in each is stronger than the writing. In the third, Anne Hathaway beams and panics on screening in equal measure. Doing her best Rebecca Bunch impression, as a musically inclined woman with borderline personality disorder, she struggles to meet a man who is open to the mood swings that come with her condition. The fourth episode follows a tennis playing couple (Tina Fey and John Slattery) that might be headed for divorce, very much like the basic concept of Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale.” Perhaps the overlapping similarities are intended to be affectionate nods to the works but, at several points, both episodes feel too pointedly similar to other accomplishments.

The fifth episode, “At the Hospital, an Interlude of Clarity,” feels like the centerpiece of the series and is the show’s strongest half hour, respectfully and realistically following a young couple (John Gallagher Jr. and Sophia Boutella) on an awkward second date that escalates into an all-night experience where fear and anxiousness are stripped away after they find themselves together in an emergency room. In one scene, there is some insecurity with being seen naked, even after the injury occurred during foreplay. 

Unexpected encounters and hidden truths of personality, the little things that lead to real love, attraction-based or otherwise, are “Modern Love’s” bread and butter. The series is over reliant on heavy narration but considering where the material stems from that’s not all too surprising. Some of the episodes start off feeling like abandoned diary entries one hopes their ex will never read, before becoming something much more mindfully nuanced. Many of the stories would perhaps feel contrived were it not for the awkward and honest approach taken, and if they were not based on actual experiences. The final half hour initially disappoints, seeming like only half of an episode, but culminates in a refreshing way to one that feels rare of current anthology series riding the wave of the format’s popularity. 

Generosity is a necessary part of true passion. Considering more than your own feelings is a sign of a real connection. “Modern Love” revolves around the eye-opening mistakes one needs to make in order to discover what love truly means. It’s a series that knows all too well that happiness can be an illusion, and that not much hope can come from wallowing in the self pity of being stood up. Instead, Carney’s adaption of NYT’s column serves as an inspirational, yet realistic reminder, that even the most lost and lonely souls can recalibrate their cosmic love karma by being more thoughtful towards those they care most about.

Modern Love” begins streaming Oct. 18 on Amazon.