Synopsis – Resolving to achieve professional success without compromising her ethics, Lucy embarks on a ruthless game of one-upmanship against cold and efficient nemesis Joshua, a rivalry that is complicated by her growing attraction to him.
My Take – Good romantic comedies don’t come by easily now days. Personally, when I think about it, Set It Up (2018) and Happiest Season (2020) are the only two films which come to mind, who despite their respective pitfalls of romantic clichés, managed to stand tall due to the delightful execution of their slightly twisted premises.
However, what caught my attention about this film, other than the fact that it starred my forever crush Lucy Hale, was how the critics’ reviews surprisingly praised this adaption of the 2016 best-selling novel from author Sally Thorne. And a welcome surprise it is.
By combining two beloved genre tropes, one, an office relationship, and two, an enemies-to-lovers string, here, director Peter Hutchings and writer Christina Mengert lean into the formulaic methods of the classic rom-com, but offer just enough variety and heart to not only entertain, but to leave its audience warm and delighted in the end.
As a story the film spends more time telling than showing, is slightly under-cooked, and misses the marks to bring in the kind of emotions I’m generally looking for in my modern-day romance consumption, but it entertains like classics of the past, delivering on what it promised and perfect for re-watches.
The story follows Lucy Hutton (Lucy Hale) and Joshua Templeman (Austin Stowell), who ever since their very different publishing houses merged, have been at each other’s throats. As the respective assistants to the co-CEOs of newly formed B&G Publishing, Lucy and Josh both share ambition and drive, but their methods couldn’t be further apart.
With their desks, set up to face each other, their fights have become legendary at the office, and while animosity simmers between many members of the fractured staff, Lucy and Josh take the cake. However, when the two decide to eye the same job at the firm, things get a bit heated and confusion between love and hate kicks in quickly.
Beyond the will-they-won’t-they plot line, there are also enough secrets, miscommunications and moments of personal growth that keep the tension high throughout. Though the film leans into the familiar romantic clichés of the will they or won’t they, it remains very engaging largely due to Mengert’s quirky and endearing screenplay.
Like many rom-coms, it also trades in major misunderstandings. Like when Lucy’s animosity toward Josh twists itself into lust, she finds herself confused about whether Josh is playing her or actually has feelings for her. And while we know the answer, watching it play out between these two is delightful. Every step they take gets them closer to each other like an unexpected illness to a trip in which there is only one room they must share followed by an inevitable step back.
The only unlikable aspect of the film is the handling of Danny (Damon Daunno), Lucy’s coworker and not-so-secret admirer. In a typical romantic stories, he would be known as the second male lead and would be a source of conflict for the heroine to choose. But here, he’s practically a nerd caricature to ensure audiences that he’s not Lucy’s endgame, even though we already knew that.
The biggest make-or-break factor of any romantic comedy is the chemistry between the leads. Thankfully, Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell are pleasant enough leads who fit their respective roles quite nicely. Hale, who viewers might recognize from Pretty Little Liars, excels in the role of ambitious, kind, quirky and people-pleaser Lucy Hutton who, if it wasn’t for her need to make everyone around her comfortable, would be running the entire company already.
Similarly, Austin Stowell, who starred in Bridge of Spies (2015) and 12 Strong (2018), effortlessly brings to life Josh’s control freak nature. From wearing the same five shirts every week to a straight posture millennials wish they had at their work desk, Stowell adds an enigmatic charm to the (seemingly) unshakable character that is Lucy’s nemesis.
In supporting turns, Corbin Bensley and Sakina Jeffrey greatly represent the opposite viewpoints of the CEOs of the publishing company, while Damon Daunno shines in the role of the cliché forever friend-zoned colleague. In other roles, Yasha Jackson, Sean Cullen and Nicholas Baroudi are also good. On the whole, ‘The Hating Game’ is a breezy, familiar yet enjoyable romantic comedy led by a pair of charming characters.
Directed – Peter Hutchings
Rated – R
Run Time – 102 minutes