For many, modern romance can be frustrating. Is it all modern with little romance? That’s exactly what The New Romantic is getting at, it seems. Dating apps lead to meet-ups, which might lead to hookups, which might even lead to dating long-term, but Blake (Jessica Barden), a senior in college and a writer for the school newspaper, isn’t exactly thrilled with the prospects. Her column, “The Hopeless Romantic,” is deemed “boring” and not what young people these days want to read. Apparently no one wants the romance, they just want the sex. Blake wants the sex, but she wants the romance as well. The real question is, why does it seem like she can’t have both?
Interestingly, it doesn’t seem like writer and director Carly Stone is overly concerned with the online dating scene so much as she is with going from one extreme to another with regards to romance versus the “sugar baby” concept. Do people enter into marriages for things other than love? Of course, even though many will never admit it. And this is where the film falters. Its attempts to compare Nora Ephron-esque romance to being in a relationship that is obviously transactional is a genuinely interesting one, even though it fails to truly comment on either form of relationship.
Blake wants the romance and, in part to spice up her column, joins new acquaintance, Morgan (Camila Mendes), in being a sugar baby–someone who’s in a romantic relationship for financial security and a relationship meant to be beneficial for both parties. Blake becomes entangled in a relationship with an older man, a professor named Ian (Timm Sharp). In exchange for things like sex, being his date to a friend’s wedding, and keeping him company, Ian gifts Blake with a moped, a diamond bracelet, and other material things. Meanwhile, Blake uses this relationship as fuel for her column, writing anonymously because it’s easier. However, despite the mutual benefits, Blake comes to find that being a sugar baby may not be for her after all.
The New Romantic can’t seem to find itself or what it wants to ultimately say. The conclusion to the story and the questions Blake poses don’t provide much insight into where she stands on the issues and frustrations she deals with throughout the film. In fact, the film itself is just as indecisive in many respects. The fact that Stone almost completely disregards online dating as a factor and option for Blake in discovering the reasons behind her lack of romance in the modern world is a missed opportunity. In addition, there’s an inkling of a future romantic relationship (in what is an obvious place and a prime example of a romcom trope) set up with fellow journalist, Jacob (Brett Dier), but it’s underwhelming and not given enough time to develop. This renders Blake’s search for romance pointless.
What is the film trying to say? Obviously, it isn’t against the sugar baby concept because it’s understood that women do what they feel is right for them and make choices for personal reasons, but it’s also insinuating that someone like Blake, who comes off as your average, wholesome “girl next door” type, is above this kind of thing and clearly believes she’s meant for more. This is especially more noticeable given the fact that her best friend, played by Hayley Law, and Camila Mendes’ Morgan are women of color who play a bit too much into certain stereotypes and seem fine with their lives in comparison to Blake. The film might have worked better if Blake revealed more of her thoughts on the matter through her column, a la Sex and the City, rather than attempting to read Blake’s facial expressions, which honestly don’t give a whole lot away.
The New Romantic isn’t wholly unenjoyable, but it also doesn’t stand out in any way. It’s trying to be a romcom without actually being a rom-com and this prevents it from fully developing any of its characters, the attempted romance between Blake and Jacob, and fleshing out what it’s trying to say with more certainty.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5