Love Life Review: An uneven but affable session at the therapist’s office.

Rhea Srivastava -

Love Life Review: An uneven but affable session at the therapist’s office.
Movie Rated


An anthology series that follows a different person each season from their first romance until their last romance.

I’ll admit, I may have developed a bit of a crush on the idea of romantic comedy anthologies, most of which tap into that one insecurity of millennial culture - how many relationships are we going through before we meet ‘the person.’ In Netflix’s Lovesick (AKA Scrotal Recall), we meet three series before Dylan and Evie (spoiler!!!)... even though we’ve known they belong together since episode 1. In the premiere episode of Amazon’s Modern Love, we realize that it was doorman Guzmin who was Maggie’s ‘person’ all along, just looking out for her as she relentlessly pursued romance. HBO Max’s non-splashy launch show ‘Love Life’ treads similar ground, even if it takes a few stumbles on the way, because just like these other examples… there are plenty of lessons to learn.

What is the Story about?
Lesley Manville plays the narrator to the life of Darby Carter (Anna Kendrick) whose pursuit for her person is our quest through season 1. As the show opens, we see archival footage of intimate couplings, and she reveals that statistically, an average person goes through seven relationships before they meet the love of their life (including long-term commitments, short-term flings, and one-night stands). Not the most upbeat opening that we were hoping for. Darby comes from a broken home where she constantly craved connection and felt that she was undeserving of love. As a tour guide in New York, she is on a quest to find someone special. The 10-episode season shuttles back and forth across timelines, with each episode focussing on a specific relationship, all of which have a profound effect on our heroine. As Darby goes from being a naive and underemployed youth to a mature and responsible adult, the story becomes more about her self-discovery than of finding love. But just like the perfect relationship, it may require some patience on the way. 

As is with the examples I mentioned before, and the many other shows following a similarly innovative structure, it’s not like Love Life has anything new to say the way it talks about love, life or relationships. Darby goes through a series of heteronormative relationships, many of which suffer minor inconveniences, and none really having the passion, attraction or excitement to keep us or her invested (one of them, Magnus, manages to make through two episodes devoted to him). But imagine the possibilities when exploring the evolution of a person through the connections they make… what the journey from your first romance to your last has the capability of teaching you. So we follow her through the first relationship and heartbreak, a fling with an old colleague, a one-night stand and a messy marriage before the show starts to really find its footing (and gets rid of the back and forth narrative structure) and expand on other relationships around her - the difficult years of acknowledging each other’s love with her mother, played by Hope Davis, and her best friend-turned-roommate Sara’s (Zoe Chao) addiction issues. 
Perhaps it is the show’s biggest technical flaw that the first few episodes are without much sparkle in their writing. But personally, I like the fact that Love Life avoids the contrivances of TV’s grand crescendos and declarations of love. As Darby does realize by the end, love can come in a whisper and feel comforting and homely, rather than some great meet-cute. Similarly, the fall of a relationship is also laced with small cracks. Darby’s problems with her boyfriends are pretty regular and banal, and enough time is spent showing those little differences for us to believe that it wasn’t meant to be. At times you feel the show is trying too hard to sell you on these profundities that stem out of the little hits-and-misses in love and sex, whether it is through Manville’s narration style or the dialogue, which often reminds you of being at a therapist’s office. In fact, the problems in Darby’s life are solved quite easily by communication (or by sex). But one may still feel moved once in a while by what the show does sell, which is the need to find yourself being far bigger than finding a partner. 

The sarcastic bite that Anna Kendrick possesses in most of her performances so far (and don’t let her frivolous Pitch Perfects fool you) are precisely the kind of endearing sharpness that is needed for Darby. Because it goes beyond the neurotic and nervous energy that most millennial shows possess for their characters. As the season progresses, Kendrick needs to break herself down layer-by-layer to show a growing sensitive, vulnerable, and empathetic adult, and it is really only her who does so with enough aplomb. Even in her most unlikeable moments for Darcy, Anna is still likeable whether it is a dramatic swing or a totally unnecessary rant. It is unfortunate that Chao’s Sara isn’t given much to do till her specific episode but drinks her way through the season, and Darby’s mother is also shown initially as nit-picking narcissistic control-freak till hers, because these two, as well as some of the boyfriends, are immensely compelling characters and aren’t given a chance to shine at all. With each episode clocking in at 30 minutes, the solution wouldn’t be to make the episodes longer. But somewhere the writing meanders if we focus on one person for half an hour, and learn nothing in retrospect. Still, Zoe Chao gives a compelling performance as a spiralling alcoholic.
While Love Life doesn’t quite fit into the ‘prestige TV’ line-up that has filled up HBO, it is still a smart take on a woman’s coming-of-age story, with genuinely smart moments and honest writing. In spite of its flaws, it is very likeable and homey, and quite easily binge-able in one sitting. Each episode has a proper twist hook for you to click for the next one. And since the show spends so much time on one character, Anna Kendrick seems to be the perfect girl to care about.
Love Life still follows a rather lacklustre format to tell a familiar story. If you are looking for strained relationships or major revelations the way TV usually does so (and to great effect, if I may add), then that is not the case here. Unless you invest in Darby and how she drifts across her first few relationships, you won’t get there till the end. Her story is still a rather comforting presence in the time of the virus. 
Music and Other Departments
Manville’s voice comes at the end with a well-rounded presence. The show breaks ground in major technical achievements, but you may wonder how fictional apartments in New York still manage to look this clean. 
Did I Enjoy It?
Yes. It was easily binge-able. And has some acute observations about our lives. 
Do I Recommend It?
Yes. Try the first few episodes and see.


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