Brief synopsis: an LA writer of a popular dating column about her failed internet dating life, falls for a man from Lake Placid, NY, in the run-up to Christmas. She decides to surprise him with a surprise visit for the holidays only to find that she has been catfished.
Is it any good?: if you enjoy a Christmas rom-com, you will love Love Hard. With a sparkling script and a modern story that both pokes fun whilst simultaneously showing deference to other rom-coms and Christmas films, Love Hard is a rom-com with heart and wit. Lovely.
Spoiler territory: Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev) is an LA columnist who writes about her eventful dating adventures. Dating via an online dating app, Natalie is jaded about the dating scene and feels deflated by the chicanery of online dating profiles.
Kerry (Heather McMahan ), a work colleague and friend, explains to her that not only is she the commonality in all of her dates but her refusal to date outside of LA is restricting her options. Natalie’s pushy boss, Lee (Matty Finochio), wants to know when her next article will be ready.
Natalie wants to get away from her miserable dating life and write something more wholesome. Lee is not entertaining that notion, telling her to keep writing what the readers want. He states everybody’s miserable.
At home, Natalie puts up her Christmas tree and settles down in her apartment for another night of single-dom.
She swipes through her dating app, dismissing a slew of unsuitable candidates. She comes across the profile of Josh. Handsome guy with an appealing bio. They begin exchanging messages.
She tells Kerry about him and shows her his profile. Kerry is a little sceptical. The profile could be fake or the photos old. She should call him and get an up-to-date photo of him. Natalie is reluctant to call him, so Kerry grabs her phone and does it for her. Josh sends a current photo of himself that matches his profile.
The message exchange romance continues with the two getting closer. Natalie laments the distance between them, with her living on the West coast and him on the East.
He tells her he wishes they could spend Christmas together. Their messaging is interrupted by her boss. He wants her next story, when can he expect it?
She tells him she thinks she might have met someone. Lee is not interested. He wants her to keep dating internet losers.
Natalie tells him that she plans to fly across the country and meet up with the man for the first time. On hearing this, Lee, convinced that the meeting is a disaster in the making, gives it his blessing.
Natalie flies to Lake Placid. The trip does not begin well, with her losing her luggage as soon as she gets there. She takes a taxi to Josh’s home.
The taxi ride is eventful, with Natalie refusing the multitude of snacks offered to her by E-Rock (Fletcher Donovan), the driver. He offers her kiwi slices. She is highly allergic to kiwi, so politely declines.
They arrive at Josh’s home. The house is covered in Christmas decorations. She nervously approaches the house. She is greeted by Josh’s stepmother, Barb (Rebecca Staab).
Barb welcomes her into the home. Josh is not home but she can meet the rest of the family. Josh’s father, Bob (James Saito) and his grandmother, June (Takayo Fischer).
Josh arrives home and Natalie meets him for the first time. Josh (Jimmy O Yang) looks very different from his photos. A shocked Natalie leaves the house, Josh following after her.
They argue outside, him apologising for fooling her but questioning the fact she would decide to visit a person she has never met as a surprise. A furious Natalie leaves, going to the local bar.
In the bar, Natalie sees the person who she thought was Josh. He is Tag (Darren Barnet) and is a popular guy in the town.
Natalie calls Kerry and tells her that she has been catfished but the guy who she thought was Josh does live in Lake Placid. Kerry tells her to approach him. Natalie decides she is going to perform a karaoke song to impress Tag.
She steals a couple of shots that a girl had ordered to give herself courage. Unfortunately, the shots have kiwi in them. Her face, unbeknownst to her, bloats, reacting to the kiwi.
Josh, who had followed her to the bar, watches as she scares the bar’s patrons with her exuberant performance and bloated, Halloween face. Natalie catches a reflection of her face in a mirror and rushes out of the bar.
Josh follows her out as her allergy causes her to pass out. He takes her to the local veterinary hospital, the doctor, Foye (Debbie Podowski), helps her. Allergy under control and conscious, Josh asks Natalie to pretend to be his girlfriend in the run-up to Christmas.
In exchange, he will help her get together with Tag. Natalie reluctantly agrees, the pressure of needing to submit an article reinforced by a message from Lee.
After an awkward breakfast with the family, Natalie and Josh’s plan begins. He takes her to the local clothing store that his family runs. Tag is picking up an order there that morning. Josh tells her that Tag is a real outdoorsy person and loves climbing.
He introduces Tag to Natalie, telling him that Natalie is his cousin on his stepmother’s side. Tag invites Natalie climbing. She agrees but later tells Josh that she cannot climb.
Josh is confident that he can give her enough pointers to survive the date, even though Natalie is fearful of heights.
Later that evening, Natalie sees a box of candles. She asks Josh about it. He, a little embarrassingly, tells her he makes candles with a masculine scent. It is his passion. Why doesn’t he start a business?
Josh says his father would scoff at the notion and his brother would ridicule him. She did not know he had a brother. Josh’s brother arrives at the house to much fanfare.
In the main house, Josh’s brother, Owen (Harry Shut Jr.) and his partner, Chelsea (Mikaela Hoover) have come for Christmas. Josh is brash and confident. He and Chelsea are surprised to see that not only does Josh have a girlfriend, but she is also attractive.
The family and Natalie gather together to decorate the tree. The next day, Natalie and Josh meet Tag at the climbing centre. She goes into a panic when she sees the size of the climbing walls. Josh helps her through the ordeal.
Tag, oblivious to Natalie’s panic, invites her out again. Natalie goes out with the family carol signing. Owen and Chelsea take centre stage, really showing off. Natalie and Josh momentarily take the spotlight with a reworked rendition of Baby It’s Cold Outside. Owen and Chelsea, decide to announce they are having a baby.
Josh, taking advice that Natalie had given him about not letting Owen steal the spotlight, proposes to Natalie. Not wanting to embarrass him, she accepts.
She calls Kerry to lament her situation but gets no valuable advice. The next day, Tag takes her bobsleighing. Natalie has to get high to get through the date, because of her fear of bobsleighing.
In the evening, the family sit down to watch Love Actually, a film Natalie dislikes preferring another Christmas classic, Die Hard.
Barb excitedly tells everybody that Natalie and Josh’s engagement announcement is going into the local newspaper the next day. The next morning, Josh and Natalie race around the town, stealing all the copies of the newspaper.
Natalie checks out Josh’s original dating profile. It is a little off-putting, to say the least. She tells him that he needs to promote his strong points as opposed to creating a profile he thinks people want.
Vegetarian Natalie has another date with Tag. It is at his family’s steakhouse restaurant. Josh challenges her, asking if she is prepared to lie even against her principals.
Natalie takes umbrage, especially as the only reason she is there is because of his fake profile. Owen sees Natalie out with Tag.
Natalie is surprised to find out that Tag does not celebrate Christmas. He thinks it is too commercial and a scam. He gives her a goodbye kiss. Natalie is not overly enamoured by the kiss.
Natalie tries to talk to Josh about their disagreement the next morning. They are interrupted by June who wants them to come and tell an elderly group about online dating.
After the meeting, June disappears down the road, Josh and Natalie hurrying after her, worried that she is getting lost. She disappears into the steakhouse.
Josh and Natalie go into the steakhouse and are surprised to see the entire town are there to celebrate their engagement. The family have even invited her boss.
Tag still does not know that Josh and Natalie are the engaged couple. He introduces his parents to Natalie, who remark on how he never introduces his girlfriends.
Bob gets everybody’s attention, about to give a congratulatory speech. Natalie interrupts him and confesses to the relationship being a sham and pretending to like the same things as Tag to get with him.
Back at the Lin house, Natalie has left. The family console Josh. Bob sees Josh’s candles and is happy to support his dream to be a candlemaker. Natalie is unable to get a flight home and stays in the town’s lodge house. After a heart to heart with her boss, Natalie writes her article.
In the morning, she gets an alert from the dating app. It is Josh’s new profile. Natalie goes and sees Josh and re-enacts the title card sequence from Love Actually to show her love for Josh. They kiss. The end.
Final thoughts: Directed by Hernan Jimenez and written by Daniel Mackay and Rebecca Ewing, Love Hard is a sweet, heartwarming rom-com. With Dobrev ably taking on the mantle of lovelorn wordsmith Natalie and a sparkling script that all the actors commit to, the story bumps along nicely.
With Jimmy O Yang playing Josh and Darren Barnet as the movie-star-looks Tag, it is Yang’s Josh everyman that tickles the heartstrings and has you rooting for the romance.
Shying away from the easy path of making Barnet’s Tag a bit of a cad or narcissist, Mackay and Ewing fashioned a story that feels more realistic, having the personalities be what attracts instead of just marrying up two beautiful people.
Shum Jr’s Owen is put forward as a perfunctory villain but ultimately, he only cares about the wellbeing of his less confident brother. Like all good and classic romcoms, Love Hard is about the central protagonist finding out about themselves. In this regard, Love Hard hits all the right notes as well as being a feel-good Christmas film. Nice.