Tired of watching “Love Actually” (2003) again and again every year around Christmas time? The Amazon anthology TV series “Modern Love” (2019) might be something new to watch with a cup of hot chocolate near a warm fireplace on a snowy day. Based on the New York Times column of the same name, “Modern Love” is a rom-com series with eight half-hour-long episodes, each telling a love story that takes place in New York City. With the same location and similar rom-com elements, “Modern Love” reminds us of the classic anthology film “New York, I Love You” (2008) or Woody Allen’s new film “A Rainy Day in New York” (2019). Although some tend to think “Modern Love” is outshined by its predecessors, it is nevertheless worth watching.
Created by John Carney, who directed “Once” (2007) and “Sing Street” (2016), “Modern Love” breaks some social taboos with its brave depiction of several unconventional relationships. “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?” tells the story of Maddy (Julia Garner), a confused young woman who takes interest in her boss Peter (Shea Whigham), an AI engineer who is a similar age to her father. Although the huge age gap between the Maddy and Peter may creep some audiences out, Maddy’s insecurities nonetheless stand true. Her interest in Peter, whether romantic or not, shows her pain and confusion, and is interspersed with heart-warming moments when she thinks she regains the missing father figure in life with Peter’s attention and care. The story ends in the euphoric moment when Maddy finally grows out of her daddy-fixation.
“Hers was a World of One,” arguably one of the best episodes, tells the story between Karla (Olivia Cooke), a homeless expecting mother, and a married homosexual couple Tobin (Andrew Scott) and Andy (Brandon Kyle Goodman), who are waiting to adopt Karla’s baby. Dan Savage, the author of the original New York Times column story, is a sex columnist and LGBTQ activist. The piece is pleasant to watch with the fun-loving relationship between Tobin, a slightly uptight Caucasian man and his husband Andy, an easy-going African American man who is significantly younger than Tobin in age. The story develops around the differences among the three, especially Tobin’s frustration with Karla’s nomadic lifestyle when the three live under the same roof. The climax of the story takes place during Karla’s labor. As Tobin watches how Karla gives birth in pain and sweat, the two gradually come to terms with their differences in the shared rapture of welcoming a new baby to life.
“The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap,” the final episode, tells the story of love, attraction, desire and hope between Margot (Jane Alexander), a Caucasian woman, and Kenji (James Saito), an Asian American man. It is reassuring to see interracial marriage depicted on the screen, let alone between two old people who are such late stages in their lives. The piece does a good job of destigmatizing the desire for love and companionship among the elderly. The episode is followed by a closing sequence with all the characters in “Modern Love” living and breathing under the New York sky on a rainy day. The audience cries and laughs watching how characters cope with the ups and downs of life, avoid their emotions and eventually come to terms with them. Most of the characters remain strangers or live independently from one another, but that is no matter. The beauty of New York City lies in its spontaneity. With all the bittersweet encounters and heart-warming hopefulness intertwined in the rain, who knows what will happen next on the streets of NYC?
There are definitely many shortcomings to “Modern Love.” It undeniably has some unrealistic chick flick elements, which a review from The Atlantic calls “trite idealism.” Meanwhile, a New York Times review calls the series “an instagrammable latte.” “Modern Love” mostly sheds favorable light on NYC and sometimes glamorizes the reality of life. The storytelling in some pieces is less believable or successful than in others. Anne Hathaway’s acting in “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am,” though challenging, still seems somewhat unrealistic and awkward with its melodramatic ups and downs; and the dance seems like an abruptly out-of-place tribute to “La La Land” (2016).
However, although “Modern Love” has several faults, it is still worth watching. After all, it is Christmas season. For a brief moment, let us leave the thorniest, most painfully revelatory moments in life. Hand me the cozy hand-knit cardigan and the instagrammable latte on my snowy Christmas night!