A funny thing happened recently when Bardfilm mentioned that he’d just seen Love At First Sight on Netflix and recommended it the next time my wife and I were looking for something to watch. We talk fairly often, but almost always about Shakespeare. So it was a bit out of sync with the norm.
Well, my wife and I had a movie evening tonight and decided to watch it. First scene, our narrator character is reading from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. All right, Bardfilm, I see you 🙂
The film is a brand new 2023 release, based on the book “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight,” authored by Jennifer E. Smith. It stars Haley Lu Richardson (The White Lotus) and Ben Hardy (Bohemian Rhapsody). So it’s not some “straight to DVD” anonymous release that would have collected dust on a Blockbuster shelf. It’s a legit project.
If not for one thing, we wouldn’t be talking about this movie. It is generic on top of generic. Even the title. I searched IMDB and came back with nearly 100 exact matches. I understand that it’s cribbed from the original book title and probably plays better than “Statistical Probability” of anything, but this is what writers are for. Surely, somebody could have grabbed a different catchy line to use.
Then it does the “what are the odds?” thing to the extreme. Our male lead is obsessed with the probability of things, so he goes around quoting statistics. Did you know that 1 in 50 relationships begin in an airport? But 50% of marriages end in divorce? In fact that’s the entire structure of the movie, as Jameela Jamil plays an omnipresent narrator who keeps showing up in unusual places to let the audience know that there was only a 0.06% chance of a happy ending, unless X Y Z happens…
So why, then, are we talking about it? Because for some reason, there’s the promise of a lot of Shakespeare in this one. And I say it like that for a reason. As noted, we open with the narrator reading from Dream. I wonder if our story is going to parallel Shakespeare’s in some way. Or if perhaps our narrator is a cleverly disguised Puck, running around and messing with lovers for his/her own enjoyment? Nah.
Later, we catch a glimpse of the hero’s parents, a pair of thespians, banging out a bit of Dream for our amusement. Later, there’s an entire Shakespeare-themed party where everyone dresses up as Shakespeare characters and performs. Only, we don’t get to see it. We see people in costume, and we’re given the numbers of how many of each character there are and what speeches were performed, but NOBODY ACTUALLY DOES ANY SHAKESPEARE ON SCREEN. Aw, come on! There’s a specific “Who are you supposed to be?” / “I’m Macbeth” moment … but at no point does this factor into the story. Nobody actually performs any Macbeth.
There’s a moment when our hero is running around looking for our heroine. They’re at a fancy house. I have that moment where I scream “OH IF SHE COMES OUT ON A BALCONY….:” but even that, the most obvious of obvious Shakespeare opportunities, doesn’t pan out.
Bardfilm and I were left pondering why the story would go there. So much Shakespeare and let so little. Shakespeare for the masses is a tricky business. Drop in some Romeo and Juliet and everybody’s right there with you. But push your luck and start bringing up stuff people didn’t study in high school, and you’re going to lose them. This one misses obvious chances while leaving in the bizarre ones. There’s more Richard III than Romeo in this.
A new form of movie rating scale came to me the other day. Forget stars or tomatoes. We should be rating movies on how much money I would have been ok spending on this. If I’d seen this in a theatre? I’d be annoyed. But at home, streaming on Netflix? It was a pleasant change of pace, and arguably one of the better new originals I’ve seen lately. Sure it’s cliché as heck but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t well acted and produced.