Modern Love review: Amazon Prime series is a celebration of romance — big, small, complex and polarising
Modern Love is for the eternal hopeful in all of us.
Sometimes you just need a good cry. And if that comes with rumination, the feeling of being engaged in something ubiquitously pleasing and a warm feeling in your heart that no amount of skepticism or cynicism can shake off (atleast for a few hours) — who is complaining?
Amazon Prime's new anthology series, Modern Love, based on the renowned New York Times column (and subsequently, podcast), neatly packs deeply personal stories of love into 30-minute episodes. They're not exactly binge-able (unless you're in a particular mood) but that's a good thing because each episode is like a stand alone experience that you can pick up anytime. If you're overwhelmed by the many options that several OTT platforms offer, and are looking for something breezy but wonderful to watch, look no further. And with a glowing cast list — Tina Fey, Anne Hathaway, Catherine Keener, Dev Patel, Andrew Scott to name a few — Modern Love is definitely worth your time this festive season.
Modern Love is for the eternal hopeful in all of us. It does become too “Hallmark-y” at times — sanitised, flat and universal — but reels you back with nuance every once in a while. Modern Love's biggest win, then, is in not succumbing to a “one-size-fits-all” representation of love and positivity. It gives you the cliches in abundance but allows your mind to wander. Modern Love is universal yet unique in its storytelling.
It is for this reason that Modern Love is perhaps one of the starkest series this year; you're unlikely to forget the visuals, the emotional repartee or dialogues, and most importantly, the episode titles, which read like the Perfect Headline — an elusive concept editors around the world chase. It's based exclusively in New York City, so romance is omnipresent.
Modern Love honours all kinds of love. Take for example the first episode, “When The Doorman Is Your Main Man,” a cutesy episode about a neurotic book reviewer (the charming Cristin Milioti) living in a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan, who finds a father figure in her doorman. A doorman who sees her through the spectrum of vetting boyfriends to babysitting her child. Or even episode 7, “Hers Was a World of One,” where a gay couple (including the dreamy Andrew Scott) find an unlikely catalyst of change in a homeless woman, who brings a baby into the world for them.
For every episode that gives you good ol' lurrve on a platter — Episode 2, “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist,” starring the dreamy Dev Patel and Catherine Keener, is Nora Ephron's dream come true — there's an episode that explores the breakdown of a relationship and the complexity of ordinary life.
“Rallying to Keep the Game Alive,” starring Tina Fey and John Slattery, doesn't polish the humdrum moments of a long marriage. Tina Fey's dry humour works beautifully in a story about a middle-aged couple who take to playing tennis to keep the spark — any spark — alive. Similarly, the season finale, “The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap,” is an ode to love at an old age and subsequent grief, because love may be beautiful but it isn't permanent in the face of mortality.
There's also the deeply complex episode, “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?,” which brings "daddy issues" into this motley mix of themes; it's a polarising episode that may impress or shock you depending on how you feel about older men and younger women being together, in whatever capacity.
Happily ever after is a fairytale concept that Modern Love acknowledges and lets the romantic in you rise above it to find a emotion you best relate to.
The best episodes of the series, then, are the ones that dare to experiment. In episode 3, “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am,” Anne Hathaway plays a bipolar woman who goes through the pendulum of mania and melancholy in an endearingly theatrical manner. This is not to say mental health is endearing, but the arresting episode presents a kind of normalisation of bipolarity that is sure to resonate with many viewers. Ultimately, the episode is about self-love, and who better than Anne Hathway for the role?
Mental health has an important role to play in one of my favourite episodes, “At the Hospital, an Interlude of Clarity,” where a couple end up at the hospital on their second date when things were just about getting hot and heavy, courtesy an accident involving a broken glass. Rob (John Gallagher Jr.), an anxiety-ridden, over-analytical cynic and Yasmine (Sofia Boutella), an exuberant young woman full of yearning, give into their basic impulses even when the universe is trying to keep them apart. It's an episode that champions the idea that love and attraction can blossom even in the most ill-fated of experiences.
The New York Times column is 15 years old, and surely the "modern" bit has changed over years, bringing in the necessary intricacy to a universal concept. This isn't an anthology for the sake of anthology. Or cliche for the sake of mass consumption. Modern Love is a celebration. How much you choose to celebrate depends on what kind of love story you are craving, but take a chance, won't you?
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
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