Festive movie review: Love at First Sight

(courtesy IMP Awards)

Is there such a thing as fate?

The answer to that huge, almost unanswerable question, likely rests on which side of the freewill vs inevitable destiny line you call on; if you’re a freethinker, the idea that you are somehow shackled to a particular outcome is odious but if you’re the sort of person swept up in the idea that some things, if not all things, are all but predestined and you just have to go with the flow, you’ll love the idea that there’s a fixed destination and you’re heading straight there.

Or, and here’s the fun part of original thinking rom-coms, you can be like Love at First Sight, you can sit happily on both side of the fence and not even remotely come close to splinters up your proverbial.

Let’s be clear though that Love at First Sight, based on the novel The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, is very much on the fate bandwagon; throughout this beautifully wrought and emotionally weighty movie we are treated to Jameela Jamil as a magical narrator who appears in various guises, all of them designed to insert right into the thick of the proto-romantic action.

If you saw even an episode or two of The Good Place, you will be well are of Jamil’s skill at being simultaneously playful and meaningful and in her role as the commentator of love writ large in the fateful stars, she is superb, adding just the right amount of fun and gravitas to a film that has far more substance than your average rom-com.

The story of two people who, by sheer luck, fate and happenstance – take a pick and choose the one that appeals to you the most – meet on JFK airport before a flight to London, Love at First Sight comes loaded with a whole lot of grounded humanity, the kind that recognises that love can sweep all before it but that it still has to contend with the fact that life can be terrifyingly bleak.

Hadley Sullivan (Haley Lu Richardson) arrives for her flight four minutes before its departure which if you’ve ever caught an international flight is pretty much curtains for you actually getting onto that flight.

Flustered and in danger of not arriving in time for her dad’s marriage to his new love the next day – dad Andrew (Rob Delaney) moved to Oxford to take up a position teaching poetry and fell in love with Charlotte (Katrina Nare) who is, to Hadley’s eventual disappointment, absolutely impossible to hate – Hadley gets herself booked onto a new flight 1 1/2 hours later on which she finds herself seated to one Oliver aka Ollie Jones (Ben Hardy) whom she earlier met waiting in the airport lounge.

The two struck it up immediately and through a narrative contrivance that you totally embrace because Richardson and Hardy are almost instantly adorable together, a chemistry which only grows more pronounced throughout the film, end up seated next to one another where they proceed to meet-cute themselves all over again and talk through most of the flight.

Love at First Sight is one of those rom-coms where the dialogue flows smoothly and with real comedic verve and pizzazz – if you’ve ever felt like your dialogue game is simply not up to scratch, then do not watch this film because it will all but torpedo any sense you have of being witty and clever compared to Hadley and Ollie – and where you are so instantly drawn into the connection between the two leads that you can’t even conceive of them not ending up together.

That they do find love, true lasting love is a given because of the genre of which Love at First Sight is indisputably a part, but how they get there is inventive, fun and moving, composed of as much emotionally intense heartfelt sharing as it is light, frothy flirting cuteness.

This is not one of those stories where you are left wondering if the two lovebirds will end up together; throughout the story, much of which takes place on the ground in London rather than on the flight as you might suppose, they connect not once but twice and in complete defiance of the odds which are well and truly stacked against them.

What wins you over most definitively is not necessarily the falling in love part, which is as swoon-worthy and starry-eyed romantic as you could hope for, but the fact that this fateful grand love affair in the making comes loaded with an admission that love is not all sunshine and roses, something painfully true for both parties but most especially for Ollie who is back in his hometown to see his parents Val and Tessa Jones (Dexter Fletcher and Sally Phillips respectively) on very sad grounds.

Neither Ollie or Hadley are really in the mood to look for love but this is where fate comes into play – it’s clear the universe wants them together and that yes, in a very real sense, the timing is LOUSY but, and here’s the truth about life, we always have a choice about what we do with what we’re given.

It’s something the narrator makes very clear is a thing; fate may real, so it says, but then so is free will and choice and throughout the effervescently substantial delights of Love at First Sight, the two are tussling with each other with the clear message being good things are coming your way but you may or may choose to accept them.

That Hadley and Ollie do accept fate’s insistent guiding hand is no surprise, with it all culminating in an impossibly romantic final scene and a narrated epilogue of sorts that affirm how true their seemingly accidental though all-but-preordained love is, but Love at First Sight rises above simply being two people happily pushed together by destiny by added real emotional weight and depth to proceedings and reminding us that while choice is something we should treasure, sometimes giving into the inevitable might just be the best and most lasting thing we ever do.

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