Did “Love Hard” Make the Naughty or Nice List?
Issue 7, Volume 112
By Nicole Liu
Sleigh bells are ringing, carolers are caroling, and the first snowflakes are falling. Yes, it’s that time of the year again. And, as with every year, something to look forward to in the upcoming months is the inevitable surplus of holiday movies on the horizon. Nothing beats curling up in a fluffy blanket with some hot cocoa and pressing play on a campy Netflix rom-com.
Kicking off this year’s lineup of Christmas movies is “Love Hard,” a flick that has garnered quite a bit of attention since its release. The movie follows Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev), a journalist who runs a blog about her string of unlucky experiences in love. To break this streak of hapless relationships, she decides to travel halfway across the country to spend Christmas with Josh Lin (Jimmy O. Yang), a man who she met on a dating app. But her dreams are quickly crushed when she finds out that Josh has been catfishing her. All hope is not lost, however, when Josh makes a deal with Natalie: he will help her get the man of her dreams if she pretends to be his girlfriend for the holidays.
While this plot screams generic and predictable, its uniqueness lies in the fact that both of the male romantic leads in the movie are Asian American, finally bringing representation to a genre of movies that doesn’t usually see much diversity. However, just because a movie includes Asian American characters doesn’t mean the movie does them justice. Josh is depicted as a dorky, awkward homebody who still lives with his parents. This initial introduction feeds into Asian stereotypes in the media and does more harm than good for Asian American representation. Specifically, the desexualization and emasculation of Josh’s character further the idea that Asian American men are nerdy side characters who can’t find any romantic prospects in comparison to their white counterparts.
This stereotype of Asian inferiority and emasculation stems from centuries of racism, going back to when Asian communities first started to immigrate to America. And these harmful stereotypes are still present today. Don’t believe me? How many times have you heard somebody comment that a K-pop idol “looks like a girl”? And how many times have you heard somebody say that about a white man? While Josh’s self-image does go through some improvements as the movie goes on, he only begins to build up his esteem once a white woman validates his self-worth, further conveying the message that Asian Americans are only adequate once they are accepted by Westerners.
On the other end of the spectrum is Tag Abbott (Darren Barnet), the dreamboat that Natalie is swooning over. Despite his good looks, he lacks substance or a connection to Natalie, causing his character to fall flat, a common trope in rom-com movies among secondary leads. If the movie truly wanted to show audiences that Asian men can come in a variety of personalities and appearances, it would have benefitted from writing Tag as a more developed character, one that could contrast with Josh’s heavily stereotypical persona. Unfortunately, “Love Hard” couldn’t find the time to ever flesh out Tag past the point of “second romantic choice.”
In fact, most of the side characters are poorly developed, causing the whole movie to fall short. Specifically, it seems like many of the characters were given a single defining characteristic and otherwise left completely without depth. Josh’s brother, Owen Lin (Harry Shum Jr.), for example, is portrayed as an attention seeker who is always outshining his brother. But as an Asian American, screen time on his experiences about overcoming his insecurities could have given him more dimension, in addition to helping Josh improve his self-esteem outside of Natalie’s validation. This one-dimensional writing is prevalent in all of the characters and makes them generic and insensible at times, due to their obliviousness to Natalie and Josh’s fake relationship. Overall, this deficiency in character writing makes the movie more shallow and creates missed opportunities to further the discussion about Asian American experiences in America.
Despite there being an Asian American family at the center of the movie, nothing substantial is shown about Asian culture or struggles. Many of the customs that the family is seen participating in are very whitewashed. For example, the family goes caroling at one point. While there is nothing wrong with caroling, it’s an odd inclusion alongside the complete lack of Asian American cultural representation in the movie. Again, this is a missed opportunity to further the discussion about Asian American experiences, as a depiction of both American and Asian traditions could have been used to display the very cultural mixing that results from assimilation.
Putting aside the failed attempts to bring Asian American representation on the big screen in “Love Hard,” it is a very generic holiday movie. The movie tries to be funny, but few of its jokes land, leaving the audience frequently in a state of second-hand embarrassment. However, one redeeming quality about the movie is its soundtrack. While still relatively generic for a Christmas movie, it does a good remake of the notoriously creepy song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” putting a much more playful and feminist spin on it. At times, the movie also manages to be an enjoyable viewing experience, having some cute moments here and there. For example, in one memorable moment, Natalie tells Josh that he should show his eyes more because they are beautiful. Cheesy? Yes. But, it is nice to see an Asian feature being appreciated in the media.
“Love Hard” is a predictable and shallow rom-com that doesn’t do much for the Asian community. The movie often misses the mark in a lot of ways, saying little about Asian American struggles and often perpetuating some harmful stereotypes. Problematic facets aside, “Love Hard” is a fun Christmas movie that is meant to be cheap entertainment. It’s cheesy and hard to watch at times because of its awkward moments, but it's a good movie for mindless viewing near the holiday season—or on Thanksgiving, in this case.