When a British boy who is on time 94 per cent of the time meets an American girl who is late 21 per cent of the time and has their meet-cute at an airport, sparks naturally fly high. As every ardent Love Actually fan knows, love stories that take flight at an airport have a unique charm, and Love at First Sight is no exception. In fact, with Love at First Sight, Netflix has landed itself a bonafide hit rom-com after what seems like ages.
Love at First Sight is well-written, neatly directed, the colours on-screen are a joy to take in, and the chemistry between Haley Lu Richardson and Ben Hardy is just off the charts!
Directed by Vanessa Caswill with a screenplay by Katie Lovejoy, Love at First Sight is based on Jennifer E. Smith’s 2011 novel The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Despite relying on the well-worn clichés that make for a good romance, Love at First Sight is fresh. It could have easily been just another bland and mindless Netflix shill that is forgotten within a day of its release. But it rises above all the trappings of being just another hokey tale of modern-day love.
As with most romantic heroes written by women, Hardy’s Oliver Jones is charming, articulate, sensitive, and just an all-around stand-up fella. Richardson’s Hadley Sullivan is smart and complex without being heavy-handed. And thank the writing lords, Hadley is no pick-me or klutzy damsel-in-distress either.
The story begins as we see Hadley, a 20-year-old NYU student, rushing to catch a flight en route to her father’s London wedding. She misses her flight just by four minutes and has to book another. While waiting at the airport, she meets Oliver, a statistics major at Yale. There is, of course, an instant connection. They are on the same flight, though in different rows. However, an issue with Oliver’s seat belt ensures he is moved right next to Hadley. The six-hour-long plane ride becomes an extended date with meals and a movie. But, once they land, making fate happen is up to them.
The film is narrated by The Good Place breakout star Jameela Jamil. She keeps popping up throughout the story as a passenger, a flight attendant, an immigration officer, a bartender, a bus driver, a random but very stylish Brit passerby, a guest at a memorial and a wedding, an avatar of Tahani getting coffee in the heart of London. All this might make you wonder: Is she just a stats-loving Cupid?
Jamil flits in and out with a lot of charisma and keeps the story moving forward, showering coincidental miracles upon the star-crossed lovers Hadley and Oliver. The film also features heartfelt performances from Dexter Fletcher, Rob Delaney, and Sally Phillips. At one point, somewhere around the 42nd-minute mark, a Bill Nighy lookalike is walking behind Oliver at the London airport. Whether intentional or not, this is another lovely nod to the reigning champion of Christmas romcoms, Love Actually.
The film has a lot of little details that make it feel authentic—crying babies on the flight, long queues, and phone batteries that are always dying on you when you need them to have your back. There is also a metric vs. imperial system joke in there.
You feel Hadley’s anxiety and claustrophobia when their flight is about to take off, and she has to reach out to hold her handsome neighbour’s hand for support. The flirty banter going on between the would-be couple is free-flowing and winsome, from discussing the meaning of love, as Hadley declares it “is just having someone to hold your hand through life”, to the futility of big weddings—are they just a flashy but ultimately redundant party or a promise of spending a lifetime together? Hadley and Oliver ponder like no two strangers on a plane would typically do.
A standout moment comes when a melodic version of ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ plays as Hadley and Oliver almost share a kiss. The chemistry between the two is sparkling as they are bathed in fluorescent lights illuminating their faces half-hidden in the shadows, their hands brushing together with anticipation. It’s a moment of hesitation built with a lot of tension. This is the inexplicable intensity of love at first sight, a near-mythical phenomenon our generation grew up devouring in all our pop culture but sorely missing from the current zeitgeist defined by the paradox of choice overload.
At a time when most romcoms feel formulaic, Love at First Sight is a breath of fresh air that also deals with bittersweet themes of grief and loss. It beautifully showcases the streets of London, from the vibrant neighbourhoods of Peckham to the trendy Shoreditch. The music, including fun jams like ‘Video Killed The Radio Star,’ matches the beat of the story’s lighthearted tone even when we attend a Shakespearean living memorial. This legit tear-jerker moment may be corny for some. But then again, aren’t all the greatest love stories just a tad bit sentimental?
More than anything else, Love at First Sight is a serendipitous reminder that fate can only be fate if we decide we want it to be. For those who have been longing for a wholesome and well-made romcom, this film is the answer to your prayers to whichever entities you believe in. So, don’t miss it.