This post was written for, and appears on, Bitch Flicks.
To the undiscerning, Netflix’s Love may appear, at first glance, to be nothing more than a lazy, clichéd romantic comedy in which the geeky male protagonist improbably forms a relationship with the attractive female protagonist. Starring Gillian Jacobs as Mickey, and Paul Rust as Gus, the series focuses on the pair’s developing relationship, from initial meet-cute, in which Mickey asks Gus to pay for her cigarettes, to their eventual and inevitable hook-up.
Certainly its detractors have pointed out the unlikeliness of the relationship between Gus and Mickey yet to highlight the disparity between the two involves only taking the characters at face value. One dimensionally, Mickey is far more attractive than Gus. She is largely successful in her career, whereas Gus, desperate to write his own screenplay, struggles with his role as an onset tutor (and often does a terrible job). Yet both characters have their unlikeable and difficult qualities which help to both develop and deepen their characterisation.
Mickey is, in part due to her various addictions (love, sex, alcohol, drugs), often selfish and thoughtless. In forming a relationship with her housemate Bertie, she relies on her for emotional support yet, at least initially, offers little in return. Mickey knows that she is often controlled by her addictions, but in turn, recognises that Gus, despite his perceived affable nature, is just as damaged and selfish as her. It is here, in this characterisation of Gus as the supposed nice guy, which helps to elevate Love beyond the standard rom-com and enables it to be both a thoughtful rendering of a burgeoning relationship and an effective depiction of individual damaged characters.
Gus, despite his apparent niceness and largely positive interactions (he has a plethora of quirky friends) is, in actuality, pseudo-nice. What makes his ‘niceness’ all the more damaging is the fact that he believes it in so earnestly. He truly believes that he is a good guy, who deserves to be recognised for his niceness. He doesn’t understand why his first girlfriend found his thoughtfulness and sincerity so suffocating. For Mickey, his congeniality is, at least initially, refreshing when compared to her past relationships, but she quickly realises that Gus’ presentation of himself belies his true nature.
Much of Gus’ life feels set up and constructed, down to his comical interactions with his students, to his ritual of writing movie theme songs with his friends for songs that don’t have theme songs (Carlito’s Way for example). This concentrated construction stops Gus from confronting his true desires, and when approached by an attractive co-worker, he finds that he is unable to resist the opportunity at playing another role. It is this that makes Gus and Mickey so ideal for one another. They bring out the truth and reality in one another, and only then can they begin to accept who they are. This is not to suggest that Mickey and Gus are reliant on one another in the manner of a co-dependent relationship, but rather, that their relationship with each other affords both the opportunity to try out different roles for themselves without the fear of being judged or treated differently.
In fact, despite Gus and Mickey’s attraction to one another, they spend much of the series apart. Indeed in one episode, Gus and Mickey make plans to see one another, but due to work commitments and social interests, the pair fail to see one another, showing that their characters can and do exist independently from one another. Gus and Mickey don’t need one another, they want one another, and this is an important distinction to make. It is this assertion that helps set Love apart. It features two protagonists who are fully realised, and developed in their own right. Each leads interesting and entertaining lives, and while many of these events mirror each other (with both struggling with issues at work for example) they are separate.
Season two of Love is released on the 10th March 2017.
I have long been a fan of Judd Apatow’s much imitated slacker, laddish comedy. His male characters are likeable, and their interactions with their male counterparts are both amusing and believable, allowing talented comedic actors such as Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan and Steve Carrell to riff off one another, creating genuinely funny set pieces.
Apatow has, however, had a clear difficulty in depicting women on-screen. His women often fall into simplistic caricatures: women who are either ‘bitches’ for not wanting to involve themselves with our lovable hero, or remarkably attractive women who just happen to fall for the nerdish protagonist. Katherine Heigl of Knocked Up had a particular issue with her character, the demanding Alison, remarking ‘I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy?’. Many of Apatow’s female characters read as immature wish fulfilment, demonstrating very little, if any complexity.
Love his latest effort (created in conjunction with Paul Rust and Lesley Arfin) could be viewed as a rebuff to his earlier career criticism. The women in Love are just as developed as the male characters and more importantly are awarded a complexity hitherto unseen in his work.
The Netflix original series seeks to explore gendered perspectives on relationships and despite the inevitable meet-cute, is refreshing in its irreverent approach. Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is a functioning alcoholic; moderately successful in her role at a digital radio station, she attempts to negotiate both her professional and personal life whilst struggling with her sobriety. Gus (Paul Rust) is a tutor to child stars and spends much of his time desperately attempting to get his students to focus in between scenes on set. The pair meet when Mickey realises she is unable to pay for her goods at a store and Gus offers to help. The depiction of this moment, for me, typifies Love‘s refreshing approach. In this instance it would have been so easy for Mickey to play the clichéd damsel in distress, whose gratitude at Gus’ heroism leads to a potential relationship. Instead Mickey takes advantage of the situation, asking Gus to purchase her additional items (to which he willingly acquiesces) and then spends the afternoon driving Gus around in her hot-boxed car.
The narrative, whilst obviously building to the pair developing a relationship never feels hackneyed or laden. In a similar way, whilst the audience is waiting for Gus and Mickey to interact with one another, much of the narrative is devoted to the pair developing as individuals, showing their struggles at work or their attempts to work through their own personal issues.
The appeal of the show is not merely down to its writing: Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs in particular are incredibly compelling and eminently watchable, but so too is the supporting cast. Claudia O’Doherty as Bertie, Mickey’s new room mate is especially good; her slightly off-piste approach and comedic timing ensure that her screen moments are as enjoyable as the lead protagonists.