REVIEW: ‘Modern Love’ Explores Love in New York City

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Modern Love

I love, love. Whether it’s trashy romance novels, shoujo anime, Korean dramas, or really bad Netflix rom-coms that are actually pretty good, romance is one genre that I gladly fall into no matter the medium. All of this leads me to my excitement over the Amazon Prime Original Modern Love, based on the New York Times’ romance column and podcast of submitted essays released over the weekend.

“Based on a column” may not sound like the most engaging series, but Modern Love explores relationships, love, and the human connection in a way that feels both magical and authentic. Not to mention, the eight-episode series also has a stacked class, featuring Sofia Boutella, Tina Fey, Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel, John Slattery, Andy Garcia, Andrew Scott, and more. With each self-contained episode, Modern Love explores the many complications of romance, it’s beginnings, it’s endings, and all the mess and adventure in between.

As an anthology series, each one of the eight episodes isn’t just an exploration of love, they’re adaptations of essays that were published in the New York Times’ Modern Love column, noting as much at the start of every episode. While each story explores the love lives and identities of its characters, there is even more emotion added when you realize these are real stories. The authenticity in the experiences of the characters, the sadness, the joy, the fear, and the accomplishment are all rooted in a life bigger than the 29 to 40-minute episodes.

Modern Love

The beauty of Modern Love is in its exploration of the kinds of love we all experience. From finding romance with another person to learning to love ourselves, this anthology series does a lot to explore different experiences. One episode focuses on getting back to someone you loved but left, another centers around rebuilding a marriage, while another explores the love of a couple looking to start their family.

Like in real life, Modern Love doesn’t just showcase one version of love, instead exploring it through different identities. It’s because each episode is a completely different story than the last that the season never feels stale or repetitive, which can easily happen in stories of romance. Of the eight episodes, there are three that stick out not only in their story but in their messages and their acting.

The first of these three is episode three “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am”, which centers on Anne Hathaway as Lexi after she meets the guy of her dreams while shopping for peaches. But, this episode isn’t about the peaches or the grocery store guy. Instead, it’s about Lexi and how she comes to terms with her untreated mental illness. The episode showcases the reality of dating while struggling to understand and love yourself through your mental illness. Living with bipolar disorder, Lexi crashes into a depressive spiral hard, and Hathaway’s performance in both the depression and the mania is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

Hathaway’s performance is one that stands above any other delivered in Modern Love, and trust me, there are amazing performances throughout. It’s her ability to showcase the deep down in your bones emotional pain that comes with breaking down. Staring in the mirror, she tries to will herself to perform romance, to do something for herself, to take her life back. But, she can’t. It’s a scene that resonated and while it is because of my closeness to the subject matter, it is also because of how spot-on Hathaway’s performance was. It was so well done that it hurt.

When we discuss romance and finding it, we don’t discuss the elements that complicate it. While I’m not bipolar, I have lived with anxiety and depression for over half of my life, and when it all manifested in an eating disorder, dating and going out was all but impossible. Lexi’s love isn’t that she finds it in someone else, but that she begins to accept and love herself. Her love is allowing herself to live and treat her illness without shame. The level of care put into the role of Lexi and into telling her story is to be commended and the execution helped me understand the experiences that I’ve seen

Additionally, episode eight “The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap” explores love between two seniors, Margot (Jane Alexander) and Ken (James Saito), who meet while running a fun run race. Told in flashbacks, we get to see their love story, how it develops, how Ken opens himself to love for the first time since losing his wife six years prior, and how love between seniors can be just like young love. By not restricting love to something to only be experienced by people between the ages of 25-35, Modern Love shows its audience that romance is there for us regardless of age.

Modern Love

Finally, episode five, “At the Hospital, an Interlude of Clarity,” presents the most romantic comedy of all the episodes. Taking place over the course of one date night, Yasmine (Sofia Boutella) and Rob (John Gallagher Jr.) are about to get hot and heavy when an accident winds up bringing them to the hospital. The catch? This is only their second date and instead of dropping him off, Yasmine stays by Rob’s side. The two of them bond, talk, and learn about each other in a way that only spending an entire day with someone can facilitate. It’s a simple story, made great by Boutella and Gallagher’s performances and dialogue that is well-written and real.

In truth, this episode, despite being the one that follows most closely to the beats of a romantic comedy was the one that felt the most real in terms of love growing between two people. The first night I spent with my now-husband when we were dating ended up just being a solid 48-hours of talking, learning, and listening, and for me, was the moment I knew that I saw myself with him. Hearing his stories and even feeling the silence between us as we watched television let me know that this relationship was the one. It wasn’t even a relationship yet, but I knew I wanted it to be. The ability of Modern Love to transport me back to the start of my relationship and make thankful for it, is a credit to the strength of the love stories told and the crafting of the episodes.

Modern Love has the ability to hold a mirror up to its viewer and show you want in love, what you don’t want, what you’ve been through and where you’re going in a way that never feels forced. That said, the diversity of the cast could be greater, given the diversity of New York City, where the stories take place, especially given the diversity of the photos chosen to be included in the opening credits.

Modern Love

By and large, white women are the center of these stories as has been the case in the American romance genre for too long. Outside of episode five, which has Algerian-French actress Boutella as one of the two leads Yasmine (although she is white-passing) and episode seven, “Hers Was a World of One,” that features a gay couple, the other stories all center white women. While the show features many interracial relationships, women of color are on the sidelines of the show. Specifically, Black women throughout the show are only cast as a supportive friend.

Additionally, given New York’s large Latinx population I am saddened but not surprised that there is no Latinx presence outside of Garcia’s secondary role in episode two, “When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist.” In a show that actively looked to showcase diverse romances and casted many men of color, this is an oversight that continues the long tradition of women of color being ignored in the romance genre. Hopefully, Amazon Studios will correct this if the series gets a second season.

Overall though, Modern Love is perfect for viewers who love the idea of love, love. I saw my relationship in Yasmine and Rob. Similarly, I saw my own struggles in Lexi. Then, I saw a love in Margot and Ken that I want to have when the sun begins to set on my life. Modern Love hits all of the beats of romance and especially romantic comedies, even the bad ones, and explores the many experiences of love.

Modern Love is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.

Modern Love
8/10

TL;DR

Modern Love is perfect for viewers who love the idea of love, love. I saw my relationship in Yasmine and Rob. Similarly, I saw my own struggles in Lexi. Then, I saw a love in Margot and Ken that I want to have when the sun begins to set on my life. Modern Love hits all of the beats of romance and especially romantic comedies, even the bad ones, and explores the many experiences of love.