Popular television stars Lucy Hale and Grant Gustin elevate a relatively straightforward storyline
Story: After a first date goes horribly wrong, two individuals who are polar opposites, are forced to reconcile when their dogs become inseparable. Free-spirited Nicole and socially awkward Max must set aside their differences for the sake of their pets.
Review: The weeks preceding Valentine's Day always feature new romantic comedies. More often than not they tend to be comfort viewing that offer very little substance. While Puppy Love can be viewed as a rom-com, it fleshes out its character arcs and opens a discourse on relationships in the post-COVID era. Lead star Grant Gustin, who is best known for playing the DC superhero Flash in the hit CW series The Flash, slips into the role of Max. The socially awkward Max has OCD, which becomes more pronounced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The other primary character in the film, Nicole, played by Pretty Little Liars star Lucy Hale, is free-spirited and the antithesis of Max’s character.
In many ways, Max and Nicole with their opposing personalities would never match on a dating app. However, as in the case of most rom-coms, fate brings these unlikely individuals together. However, it isn’t love at first, in fact, their first date spirals into chaos, and in the real world, they would likely never be reunited. Puppy Love puts the protagonists in a situation where their pets Chloe and Channing quickly make a connection, and the narrative brings Nicole and Max together, albeit to their initial displeasure. At this crucial point in the narrative, the film risked falling into similar threads of several popular rom-coms over the years.
While the narrative is predictable, the path it takes, elevated by Gustin and Hale’s performances, distinguishes it from conventional rom-coms. The flaws of these characters become pivotal to the story. And despite their flaws, both Max and Nicole are endearing characters – two individuals the audience hope would get their ‘happy ending’, even if they don’t necessarily end up together. It further emphasises the struggles endured by them – Max’s vulnerabilities and Nicole’s insecurities. Both undergo significant character development over the course of the narrative, peeling away at layers of their personal trauma.
While the primary characters are certainly nuanced and well-written, the supporting characters fail to impress. The people closest to Max and Nicole are uninspired and lean on familiar tropes of supporting characters from other popular rom-coms. A bit of nuance to these characters could have significantly elevated the film from its current standing. Therefore, the burden of carrying the film is wholly left to Gustin and Hale. As one would expect, their relationship is pivotal to the romance aspect of the rom-com, and it also taps into a few heartfelt moments. However, the comedy whilst well delivered lacks a fair share of substance.
Verdict: Puppy Love offers a surprisingly heartwarming narrative, largely due to efforts of the incredible Grant Gustin and Lucy Hale. Unlike most generic rom-coms, the film attempts to explore a few relevant themes of the post-pandemic era through its light story.