‘Modern Love’ Review: Overflowing with heart and charm

Adapted from New York Times’ massively popular column of the same name, Amazon Prime’s Modern Love explores a host of different relationships, without becoming too saccharine or losing its realism

Starring Cristin Milioti, Laurentiu Possa, Catherine Keener, Dev Patel, Caitlin McGee, Anne Hathaway, Gary Carr, Tina Fey, John Slattery, Sarita Choudhury, Sofia Boutella, John Gallagher Jr., Julia Garner, Shea Whigham, Olivia Cooke, Andrew Scott, Brandon Kyle Goodman, Jane Alexander, and James Saito

Love is truly the most universal of concepts, and Modern Love enmeshes itself in these narratives with no apology. Whether it’s romantic entanglement, or platonic love, each of the eight episodes explores the different ways that love can touch and change your life. Based upon the New York Times’ column, this prevents any of the episodes for becoming larger than life, but rather tremendously life affirming in the seemingly magical way that some events fall into place, as if destined, even though it feels aimless to be living through it. There simply isn’t just one blueprint to love, but each form is equally as valid and worthy of celebration, and Modern Love tackles a whole host of different viewpoints within just eight episodes, which are massively tonally distinct from each other.

The standalone nature of each episode makes Modern Love a brilliant series for a viewer to dip in and out at will, and so powerful is the immersive storytelling that the characters feel fresh, accessible and fully formed within such a short amount of time. Not necessarily one to binge in its entirety (though you easily could, as each episode is so different from the one before), Modern Love thrives on the differences of each tale that it spins. It’s this variety that really conjures up an image of the sheer volume of different types of love that exist, that cannot simply be summed up in more traditional definitions of what love should look like.

Each episode is beautiful in the tale that is spins: the pious and protective doorman; the connection between two people who have both experienced the same pain of the one that got away; the need to embrace yourself and your flaws before you can let yourself be seen by somebody else; the sacrifices and compromises necessary to keep a long-term relationship moving; the beauty of finding love even later in life, and even when an end seems infinitely closer. Even though it would be easy to, the episodes and conversations always seem grounded and realistic, not overblown or cloying. Though the characters are talking about love, and adequately verbalising their feelings, it is far from overindulgent (Also, what’s weird about expressing one’s emotions anyway? Critical reviewers are a strange breed).

It’s tricky to label any one instalment as being a “standout”, because there are brilliant moments throughout the series. “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am” is certainly the most striking and different, with Anne Hathaway portraying Lexi, a woman with bipolar disorder who careens from dizzying highs, which look a lot like La La Land-inspired musical numbers, to crippling lows, in which she is barely able to move. Hathaway is able to show the brilliant light and effervescence of a character who is then concealed under a cloud and feeling completely devoid of life or jollity. The incredible ability of Hathaway’s to be able to emote so effectively is incredibly powerful throughout the episode, and her quiet moments are infinitely more compelling than her eyes, with what seems like a seething tide of emotions swirling just moments from the surface.

Though none of the Modern Love episodes really fall into a typical “romantic comedy” storyline, the furthest from it may well be “Rallying to Keep the Game Alive”, in which Tina Fey and John Slattery reluctantly call time on their marriage, despite many months and years of trying to stay together, but finding an invisible and seemingly insurmountable gulf between them, in the way that they butt heads and disagree over the smallest matters. Unlike many romantic movies, in which the curtain seems to come down just after the protagonists have been united, it is interesting to explore that love doesn’t inherently mean that your relationship is going to be easy, and that you are not going to drift apart, and that a lasting marriage requires conscious work and effort. Modern Love certainly doesn’t paint the world in brighter hues, despite its seemingly optimistic subject matter.

“Cupid is a Prying Journalist” gives us a brilliant platonic pairing in Dev Patel and Catherine Keener, and also provides us with two competing views of “the one that got away”, one which results in a fairytale reconciliation, while the other has a more quiet, stoic resolution. “When the Doorman Is Your Main Man” conjures up a brilliantly affecting relationship between Cristin Milioti’s Maggie, and her doorman Guzmin (Laurentiu Possa), and the finale is filled with massively emotional beats.

Some may claim that Modern Love beggars belief: that its tales of love just seem too unrealistic, or outrageous to be real, and I suppose that very much depends upon the viewer. Perhaps the reflection of Modern Love as saccharine is more a reflection upon the person viewing it than it is the content. Love is, ultimately, what you make of it, and Modern Love portrays it highly effectively, in a variety of forms, and there is an incredible level of truth to each of the different stories. It’s a brilliant portrayal of the ways that lives are affected and changed by the connections that you create and perhaps didn’t expect.

Modern Love is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.

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