Navigating NYC’s Romantic Roads with HBO Max’s “Love Life”
I have never been on a date. And thanks to COVID-19, what IRL dating life in New York could have been this year still remains a mystery to me. Turning to romantic TV shows and movies on streaming services has been my only source of having a taste of the ups and downs of love. From the classic When Harry Met Sally… to the quaint Modern Love, there is an endless list of shows and movies that show New York City to be a mystic romantic labyrinth. The most recent addition to that list is the debut of HBO Max’s anthology series Love Life, created by newcomer Sam Boyd and starring Anna Kendrick, which showcases the perils of romanticizing life a little bit too much.
Love Life joins the ranks with the other HBO NYC rom-coms Sex and the City and Girls. As in, they’re all centered around straight white women and their struggles to steer their romantic boat in a storm safely to shore. The first season focuses on the turbulent lifestyle of Darby Carter (played by Kendrick), a recent NYU grad and aspiring gallery owner who, from a young age after her parent’s divorce, believes that she’ll never be able to find true love. Instead of jumping around relationships, Darby’s romantic partnerships dissolve with every sense of self doubt. Kendrick’s portrayal of her character’s growth shines through as striking, however the menial activities she does to accomplish the goals of finding true love drags the plot towards what seems to be a continuous loop of discouragement.
Each individual episode highlights a different relationship, some of which are not necessarily romantic: from unrequited love, to falling out with best friends, to an unhappy marriage and divorce. At the beginning of each episode, there’s meet-cute scenarios of the first stages of being in a relationship that can be totally relatable such as conveniently meeting a partner at her best friend’s karaoke party on St. Marks. Her interactions aren’t completely dull or outrageous, but does that aspect make the show seem more realistic? Maybe so.
Darby is naive, but every decision that she makes is a profound (sometimes irrational) action that affects her outlook on love. Every stage of her romantic relationships stems from some sort of insecurity that she inherited from a wide range of her intrapersonal relationships. She’s capable of stumbling into one relationship with open arms, but once it unravels into uncontrollable circumstances, she’s thoroughly disappointed. The blame ultimately revolves around her own perception of love, having other people overanalyze each little detail of disappointment in the relationship. Relationships, including friendships, seem transactional to her. She does whatever she can to grab a person’s complete attention and consoles them in a way that only makes sense to her, such as dealing with her best friend’s heartbreak by making her decide on ultimatums on personal health or relationships.
Eventually, she slowly grasps this concept by going to therapy and reaching out to old flames from high school who made her realize that while the people around her matured, she did not. The correspondence of love and the age old question of growing older questions her (and even my) own sanity. Is there a way to be in love (or act out love) without stunting your own growth?
Darby is ready to take the challenges of love head on, while I, on the other hand, am a consequentialist — constantly debating the good and the bad in every single potential romantic scenario before it even comes into fruition. Darby and I stand on two opposite ends of the ethics spectrum, but nonetheless each are unhealthy coping mechanisms. There are so many differences between me: Asian, Queer and highly inexperienced with love, versus the white female protagonist yet I still watch it because of the high stakes relatability. There are glimpses of contentment within each of Darby’s relationship stages, but the emotional rollercoaster ends with a vicious drop. In times of viewing, it makes me wonder: is being in a relationship worth it for my well-being?
Both Darby and I rely on the idea of love and not necessarily love itself, and itching towards that fulfillment is a two-way effort that does not make room for complete selfishness. It’s good to dream about love, but it can consume morality or other real life prospects. Darby isn’t conceited or the “my way or the highway” type of gal, but she overtly relies on her high expectations of her lovers to make her feel like a happy person. At the last possible moment when she sticks the landing with (what the narrator says is) her soulmate, it’s not as gratifying as I had hoped. The multiple attempts of jumping into love contributes to the complicated depth of Darby’s character, and as an audience we are left wondering if she’s finally satisfied with a stranger after only a couple heartfelt conversations. It’s a happily ever after approach, but it’s also probably the key to a healthy and worthwhile relationship.
For people like Darby, it’s easy for them to find love because they’re ideal, but harder to retain it. For me, it’s harder to find love, but who knows if it’s easier to retain it? Their situations aren’t entirely applicable, but at least there are some references and signs that will help me go down the right path when the time comes.