Puppy Love (2023) Movie Review – A cringefest of clashing personalities

Lucy Hale and Grant Gustin Star in a Cringefest of Clashing Personalities

Nick Fabiano and Richard Alan Reid’s new rom-com Puppy Love is a quintessentially Millennial love story. In its desire to create relatable Gen Y characters, the film’s protagonists deal with career anxiety (not to mention just general anxiety), digital meets, and juggling their personal happiness with others’ expectations of them–and yet I still struggled to connect with them.

It’s going to be difficult, I guess, to connect with any protagonist who refuses to pronounce her own boyfriend’s name correctly (Haim is only two syllables!) and literally forces ghost pepper chicken on her unsuspecting date. Those are just a couple of instances of assholery we get to see from Nicole (Lucy Hale), whom we’re meant to root for in her quest to become a better person and find love.

In Puppy Love, neither she nor Max (Grant Gustin) are really looking for love. But for better or worse, it’s looking for them. Both have personal obstacles in their life they’re trying to overcome. Max has severe anxiety that prevents him from getting out much, while Nicole needs to work on becoming a less selfish person who lets people in her life.

Getting a new dog helps both of them take the next step in their goals: dating. When they happen to swipe each other, a walk in the park with their dogs at first seems like the perfect date. That is until their personalities clash with disastrous consequences.

There’s no meet-cute for Puppy Love’s romantic leads. I’d rather call it a meet-disaster: a series of events in which Nicole is an unfeeling jerk and Max’s anxiety is insensitively played up for laughs. In the romance that unfolds, Gustin and Hale have strong chemistry that belies their uncompelling characters, although the film’s writing and directing have a kind of forced quality that doesn’t allow them to develop their chemistry to its fullest.

Like many rom-coms born in the streaming era, Puppy Love is missing the sincerity of rom-coms we hold dear–the rom-coms of Nora Ephron’s ilk, and of the like it seems we haven’t seen in ages–but it is a cute story with a nice but clumsy message about stepping outside your comfort zone for the sake of yourself and people you care about.

So, is Amazon Freevee’s new rom-com a hopeful tale of two clueless people finding strength in love? Or simply a cringefest of clashing personalities? I’m inclined to believe the latter, but there’s some affection to be had for the quintessential Millennial romance setup. Then again, that affection is probably just puppy love.

Puppy Love will be released on Amazon Freevee, August 18.

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  • Verdict - 3.5/10

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