Observer/Anthony Burgess Award for Arts Journalism 2022: Alice Hughes on Love Life | The Observer/Anthony Burgess Award for Arts Journalism


Alice Hughes writes about culture, cities and nature. She works in politics and lives in Cardiff

The endless quagmire of time that was lockdown was marked not so much by the changing seasons, but by a steady diet of hit dramas and documentaries from the mighty streaming services. First, the pendulum swing took the form of tiger king and Unorthodoxbefore giving way to The Haunting of Bly Manor and behind his eyes Passing by I hate Suzie, all to fanfare on social media, spouting a column inch or, for the best, both. The one that landed with a whimper was HBO’s Love lifea 10-part series about the romantic woes of millennial New Yorker Darby Carter (Anna Kendrick).

The fact that the network chose to launch its much-vaunted streaming platform, HBO Max (the series was later picked up by BBC iPlayer in October 2020), with this particular series and not something a bit more meaty has was met with widespread bewilderment by critics. Only certain genres are given the “prestige television” label; romantic comedy is usually not one of them. If anything, you need to reach Nora Ephron’s levels of virtual perfection to earn it.

Corn Love life has been unfairly smeared as insignificant. A light confection may first appear, but only in a way similar to that of a high-end macaron: the small final product may give the impression of lightness, but there is a craftsmanship behind its constituent elements that elevates the together into something far. more substantial.

With a few notable exceptions, the excellent Love sick being one, at some point after-When Harry Met Sallyromantic comedies on the big screen and on the small screen ceased to be written with subtlety and intelligence and became overloaded with facile conceits and outlandish, cartoonish characters, a steady decline whose culmination is documented in the execrable Vacation and last christmas. A rarity, then – and such a treat – to see the love life treated with this level of depth.

Anna Kendrick, navigating the ups and downs of relationships in Love Life. Photo: Lions Gate Television Inc/BBC

The fun and awkward title, does what it says on the tin is practically a one-line treatment. We follow Darby’s entire love life, from first dating in his early 20s to finding his “person” nearly a decade later, to a rebound, one-night stand and a marriage that ends in divorce. .

It’s all there, the ups and downs of relationships: the dizzying wait for a text after a hot date, the agony of someone you love making life choices that don’t involve you. choose, even the secret, shameful thrill of being the one doing the rejecting, just this once. Doesn’t all this seem so trivial? I suppose so. But it’s also downright joyful and groundbreaking to see these dating tropes, which are so often presented in popular culture and in life as insignificant, as lesser, treated as consequential and worth telling and pondering.

The structure is perfectly rhythmic. A relationship is examined episode by episode (mainly, the men Darby becomes involved with, as well as excursions into the difficulties she faces with both her mother and her best friend), and it’s amazing to marvel at series creator Sam Boyd’s complexity manages to fit into the half-hour format. Entire relationships from start to finish are probed and questioned in a way that never feels rushed or contrived.

Above all, it’s the dialogue that really shines. It’s refreshing and naturalistic and I’m not talking about the dull, directionless cadence of an improvised script, but rather the way people talk. It’s rare and you don’t realize it until you see it. It’s funny, too – not in the manic way a Peter Kay DVD might have made you laugh in 2003, but funny the way your friends make you laugh. It’s all inexplicably woven together by none other than Lesley Manville’s soothing narration, which seems like an odd choice – but it works.

There are missteps. An episode that revisits a traumatic period from Darby’s high school days is a bit boring, adding little more than making an awkward point about the healing power of therapy, and the bright Kendrick, absent for most of it. of this episode, is missed. But that’s just punching holes in a near-perfect and sorely underrated rom-com.

There aren’t many creators who make art that examines the details of women’s lives in their 20s and 30s in a way that treats its subjects seriously, so when they come in, you cherish them.


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