There are very few romantic comedies where it’s compelling to watch your two leads go through the story without much interaction. Sleepless in Seattle may, in fact, be the only rom-com where that really works. The charm of the genre is seeing two potentially unlikely love interests bounce off each other, leading the audience to the all-important question of: will they or won’t they? In Love at First Sight, based on Jennifer E. Smith’s 2011 novel The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, a lack of ongoing connection between Hadley (Haley Lu Richardson) and Oliver (Ben Hardy) leaves the film feel ultimately unsatisfying.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT ★★ (2/4 stars)
Hadley is the cliched quirky American on her way to London for her dad’s wedding. Oliver is the equally-cliched cute British guy she meets in the airport. They find themselves seated together on the flight and immediately connect. It’s, apparently, love at first sight. Of course, as this is a rom-com, the pair is separated going through immigration (a plot point that doesn’t work in 2023 as both Brits and Americans now go through the same automated passport gates when entering the U.K.). Oliver gets picked up by his brother and Hadley hops in a taxi to see her dad (Rob Delaney, doing his best with what he’s given) embark on his second marriage.
The flight is the last we get of Hadley and Oliver together for a while, although she, of course, decides to set out across London to find him. The whole endeavor is oddly narrated by Jameela Jamil, playing a series of characters who interact with our couple along the way. She intones faux-wise lines like, “You see, fate can only be fate if we decide want it to be” as she looks meaningfully into the camera. Okay. Oliver’s parallel storyline is slightly more poignant as we learn the family reason he’s returned to London, but it’s not quite enough.
Director Vanessa Caswill, working from a script by Katie Lovejoy, stages some affecting scenes, including one where Hadley and her dad have a much-needed emotional reckoning. But the geography of London is completely array, with little sense of a real journey from place to place. There’s one particular drive that seems to just be shots of random places around the city edited together because Caswill seemingly wanted to include the Regent Street Christmas lights. Of course, most rom-coms require some suspension of disbelief. They also require us to invest in the characters, however, which is hard to do here. Richardson is delightful, as usual, and White Lotus fans will be glad to see her. Hardy is a sweet romantic lead. The supporting cast, which includes Dexter Fletcher and Sally Phillips, is completely likeable.
But while the statistics about love may have been fun in Smith’s novel, they are superfluous here. Jamil’s narrator, who doesn’t appear in the novel, feels like an overt wink that the film won’t stop giving you. Sometimes we don’t need a whimsical narrative gimmick. We just want to watch two pretty people fall in love and live happily ever after despite a few not-so-challenging hurdles along the way. Netflix (NFLX) has had a lot of success revitalizing the rom-com genre in recent years, but this isn’t their best effort. It’s mildly entertaining, sure, but as aspirational wish fulfillment it’s not particularly impactful.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.