It is a truth universally acknowledged that the romance movie is in peril. Some would, of course, say outright that it is dead. Indeed, for these folks, gone are the days when a straight-up romantic movie — think Pretty Woman, The Proposal, and When Harry Met Sally — was able to rake in hundreds of millions at the box office and even claim the top spot amidst high-octane action blockbusters. Now, however, films of this ilk are increasingly restricted to streaming-only releases — like The Kissing Booth and Shotgun Wedding — and, what’s more, are often met with varying responses.
On the other hand, the fact that romance movies heavily populate streaming services is precisely why some would argue that the romance movie still has life in it. For every dud like Your Place or Mine and Persuasion (Netflix’s 2022 attempt, to be exact), there’s a Wedding Season and Always Be My Maybe. Critically acclaimed movies like these have been successful in elbowing their way to the front of superhero-saturated discourse, and, more importantly, have demonstrated a potential to one day join the upper echelons of the genre and be included in the same breath as classics like Sleepless in Seattle or Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Whichever side you’re on, the fact remains: when it comes to the romance genre, quantity lately seems to outpace quality — and One True Loves is unfortunately another lacklustre attempt at joining the fray.
Directed by Andy Fickman and based on Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel of the same name, One True Loves stars Phillipa Soo, Luke Bracey, and Simu Liu in a love triangle. Emma (Soo) and Jesse (Bracey), a travel writer and a photographer, respectively, were happily married and building an exciting life together as they travelled the world, defying the small-town traditions and expectations they grew up with.
However, on their first wedding anniversary, Jesse’s helicopter crashes en route to Alaska, and he is declared missing and presumed dead. Four years later, Emma finds a second chance at love in her childhood best friend, Sam (Liu), with whom she reconnects after a chance encounter. Just as Emma and Sam are celebrating their engagement, Jesse is found — alive — leading to a reunion that forces Emma to choose between the loves of her life.
The overarching question, here, that Fickman’s adaptation attempts to answer — whether it’s possible to have more than one true love in your life — isn’t exactly new, but because it affords naturally high emotional stakes, you would expect it to provide a strong foundation for a character-driven narrative. The problem with One True Loves, even though it does its best to firmly plant us in Emma’s predicament, is that we’re not given enough to actually care about her choice.
It’s odd and disappointing to say the least, considering Reid has taken on co-writing duties (with husband Alex Jenkins Reid) to adapt her novel herself. And yet, what results is a superficial exploration of the heart, the film rushing through Emma and Jesse’s courtship, marriage, and adventures, all seemingly within the span of single montage early on the film, and hinging her and Sam’s relationship on the fact that they’re childhood friends (a major change from the novel) and not giving much else.
We’re meant to trust that, firstly, prior to the accident, Emma and Jesse were the pinnacle of love, the pairing of all pairings, and that, secondly, Sam is a walking miracle for being Emma’s second chance-incarnate. But between a shallow script and an egregious lack of chemistry between Soo, Bracey, and Liu, there is effectively no spark between any of them to make us believe they’re anyone’s true love. It’s up in the air whether this is because the script didn’t give them much to play with from the start, or they were already disinterested in each other.
Soo does solid work in untangling Emma’s internal conflict, but, opposite her leading men, often appears as if she’d rather not be there. Bracey actually nails his character, his downfall essentially being that the script doesn’t give Jesse much depth beyond being the quintessential rugged, adventure-type with a square jaw. Conversely, there’s an attempt from Liu to come off as charming, but, not unlike his Twitter feed, it just ends up feeling cringe-worthy.
Beyond the performances, One True Loves ultimately struggles with not knowing what kind of film it wants to be. Nathan Wang’s dramatic score sweeps through almost every scene, giving somewhat of a Hallmark feel — saccharine and earnest — but the rapid-fire quips and awkward humour simultaneously lend it an indie comedy feel. Through this dissonance, the film stumbles towards each cheesy romance movie checkpoint — the proposal, the big fight, the affirmation of love, the grand and public gesture, etc. — while also trying to deliver a pseudo-coming-of-age for Emma. In short, a lot of ideas are proposed, but none really stick.
One Trues Loves tries — perhaps too hard — to be a timeless love story, but where nuance is needed to pull audiences in, it instead chooses melodrama. It has the near-perfect ingredients for a great story, but it became too sweet for its own good.
One Trues Loves will be available as video on demand starting April 28.