Love Life review – light romcom glides by on Anna Kendrick's charms

Lucy Mangan
·4-min read

Ever since her fierce, funny and, well, pitch perfect turn in Pitch Perfect, I have known that I would trust Anna Kendrick with my life. And by life, I mean entertainment. Two things that are rapidly becoming synonymous. And now, just when I need her most, up she pops in her first major television outing obviating even the need to rent a movie (or, of course, go to the cinema – on which glorious endeavour, as with all golden memories of the Before Times, the less we dwell the better).

In the 10 half-hour episodes of Love Life – created and written by Sam Boyd – Kendrick (who also executive produced) stars as Darby Carter, whose millennial misadventures in both the love and the life we follow at the rate of roughly one per instalment, moves through New York and her post-grad 20s and on into her 30s. So the opening episode has her in 2012 hoping for the kind of relationship in which, as narrator Lesley Manville – yes, our Lesley Manville! – explains in voiceover, you don’t have to change into a new outfit to meet up. “You just wear what you’re wearing because you are who you are.”

She meets Augie Jeong (Jin Ha from Devs) at a party and after the obligatory (in art as in life) torturous wait for him to text, they start to date and spend an idyllic few months falling and being in love. Then he gets a huge job opportunity and leaves for Washington DC, leaving the lightly posed Question of the Week – is it better to have loved and lost to professional ambition than never to have loved at all? (The answer, at Darby’s 25, by the way, is yes. That’s me telling you that, not the show.) The next episode has her going out with her divorced older boss (“I’m not a creeper. I didn’t have you picked out or anything”) and coming a cropper at his father’s wake, the next a one-night stand with a man more vulnerable than he appears to be, and so on through all the basic dilemmas and intrigues one encounters while you’re trying on different personalities, deciding which one you are and who else’s best compliments your psychical wardrobe.

As you can probably tell from the above summary, there is nothing very deep or challenging in Love Life. It is a light, slight thing – charmingly held together by the chemistry between Kendrick and the actors playing her roommates and best friends, particularly Zoe Chao, whose long-term relationship with her boyfriend provides a secondary storyline as the series progresses. It has the kind of comic writing so good it makes even the hardest dialogue to pull off – fleet, authentic-sounding, genuinely funny banter between friends and lovers – seem effortless.

It is perhaps for those very reasons, however, that it seems an odd choice as the inaugural offering from its originating host, the new streaming service HBO Max. HBO is the home of “prestige TV”, whose most famous slogan is “It’s not TV. It’s HBO”. So you would expect a Max’d version of the network that gave us Curb Your Enthusiasm, Westworld, Sex and the City, Oz, Six Feet Under, The Wire and The Sopranos to want to come out of the starting gate with something a little more overtly impressive and complex than this brilliantly skilful but insubstantial offering.

Fortunately, that’s not something we have to worry about too much on this side of the pond. The BBC picked it up, plonked the whole thing on iPlayer, and is airing the episodes week by week on Wednesdays on BBC One, where we can enjoy it purely on its own terms. Which are not perfect, for sure. Even if you allow for the fact that a romcom – whether constituted as a 90-minute film or as a 10-part series – is never going to pass the Bechdel test, you could still legitimately ask for a little more development of its lead character and certainly of its supporting, recurring ones.

The format, the writing and acting talent on display could all bear more weight without crushing its romantic, retro – or retro-romantic – spirit. It is designed and planned as an anthology series with a new love-seeking protagonist each time and it will be interesting to see, if it goes to a second series, if all that potential for nuance and additional perspective and stories remains unexplored. It’s perhaps worth remembering that Sex and the City, which Love Life undoubtedly counts as one of its ancient ancestors, became markedly more of an ensemble piece and markedly more complex and rewarding after its initial outing.

I could happily binge the entirety of this baby SATC exactly as is. It is the perfect balm for troubled times. But I equally happily look forward to what could come next.