The Hating Game is just another silly love story



98 minutes, M, general release

I never thought a romantic comedy could make me pine for the glory days of You’ve Got Mail.

But some nostalgia did kick in during The Hating Game, which in place of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks gives us Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell as Lucy and Josh, mid-level publishing company executives competing for a big promotion.

Austin Stowell and Lucy Hale as publishing company executives competing for a big promotion.Credit:

She’s tiny, perky and accident-prone; he’s a tall, smirking American Psycho without the murders. Each of these arch-rivals will stop at nothing to score over the other – and even when hatred turns to love, how can either be sure they’re not still being played?

It’s a familiar but perfectly viable starting point, in a genre where what matters isn’t the premise so much as what you do with it. But director Peter Hutchings and writer Christina Mengert have no ambitions to take us anywhere new.

The leads aren’t lacking in talent, but they don’t seem to be playing characters so much as mimicking the way they’ve seen actors behave in other rom-coms. Hale is a reasonable facsimile of Mila Kunis circa 2008, Stowell seems to be doing Ryan Reynolds with less self-loathing.

In another sense, it’s debatable whether The Hating Game deserves to be called a rom-com at all.

Despite the obligatory stretches of forced banter, the “com” part of the equation is very much secondary – and though occasional visual symmetries might suggest otherwise, there’s also no attempt to balance points of view.

Told strictly through the heroine’s eyes, this is a straightforward fantasy about a woman landing her dream guy, who beneath his off-putting yet pleasing exterior proves to be a catch in every respect: a superb lover with some sympathetic vulnerabilities and even a knack for housekeeping (“I like a clean space”).

This fantasy of a girl landing her dream guy is told strictly through the heroine’s eyesCredit:

There’s something to be said for the lack of coyness about sex, despite a tendency to cut away to random shots of scenery when things get going.

But the dominant impression is one of willed unreality, carried over from Sally Thorne’s source novel, where the action by design could be taking place nowhere or anywhere (even in Canberra, Thorne’s home town).

The film was shot in New York and apparently is also set there. But geographical and social specifics are entirely lacking – in contrast to, say, the endless jokes mined from the Californian setting of TV’s much-missed Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which parodied so many of the tropes played straight here.

Even the quirks meant to humanise the characters feel more than usually pasted on.

Lucy, for some reason, has a thing about Smurfs, while Josh collects Matchbox cars. Needless to say, the film never for a moment succeeds in convincing us that either has any interest in literature.

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