I have come to believe that romantic comedies are a dying art. Nothing can compete with the early 2000s rom-coms we all know and love — I’m looking at you “13 Going on 30.” That being said, there are a few exceptions that give me hope, and “The Hating Game” happens to be one of them.
Based on the novel by Sally Thorne, the film follows Lucy Hutton (Lucy Hale, “Truth or Dare”) and Josh Templeman (Austin Stowell, “Bridge of Spies”), who dedicate their lives to both being assistants to the co-CEOs of a publishing company and also to beating one another at a continuous game of one-upmanship. As they compete for the same promotion that would inevitably result in one being the boss of the other, intense feelings other than hate begin to grow.
BookTok, in all its highly influential capability, loves to hype up contemporary romance novels. Despite being published in 2016, “The Hating Game” continues to gain popularity. I too succumbed to the dark side and read it earlier this year; however, I can confirm that the book is not worth the hype. I am not just saying that because the “enemies-to-lovers” trope is not my favorite; both the writing and the characters fall flat for me, especially Mr. Robot himself, Josh. Not to mention, Lucy’s entire personality was based on the fact she was five feet tall, had a weird obsession with Smurfs and grew up on a strawberry farm. After re-reading it in preparation for the release of the film, I’ve come to appreciate it more, but it still isn’t the best contemporary romance novel of all time.
Although rom-coms are fairly predictable, people love a happy ending. “The Hating Game” was highly anticipated, but based on the trailer and my own conflicting feelings about the book, I had incredibly low expectations. So, I’m shocked to say that within the first five minutes I was hooked. Hale and Stowell’s chemistry isn’t off-the-charts amazing, but they are believable enough to keep my attention. The banter, and subsequent flirting, is impeccable. Both Josh and Lucy have such quick and witty one-liners that pay off so well. One particular joke about Josh hitting his Goodreads reading goal made me feel so seen as a reader that I laughed out loud.
I’m not going to sit here and say that this is the rom-com of the century because let’s face it: It’s not. There were some obvious things that made this film more cringe-worthy than cute, like the superfluous number of Smurf references and the one too many times that Josh referred to Lucy as “shortcake.” Yet, there were many things this film did right that made for a surprisingly pleasant rom-com: The soundtrack accompanies the New York aesthetic so well, all of Lucy’s outfits were adorable and the bookish references were very appreciated. The film managed to redeem a seemingly unimportant character in Danny (Damon Daunno, “The Last Day of August”), and even Lucy and Josh’s bosses, Helen (Sakina Jaffrey, “Late Night”) and Bexley (Corbin Bersen, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), were entertaining.
I understand it’s impossible to fit 300+ pages of content into a film that’s just under 2 hours, but there was a lack of “rom” in this rom-com, which is the film’s ultimate downfall. Sure, there are plenty of swoon-worthy moments between Lucy and Josh, but I was more looking forward to the “lovers” part of the “enemies-to-lovers” trope. I understand rom-coms are not supposed to be an accurate or even believable portrayal of love and relationships. Still, I expected a more rational portrayal of love; no man in his right mind would paint their bedroom walls the color of a woman’s eyes just because he happens to be in love with her. Maybe I’m just a brown-eyed skeptic, but I don’t buy it …
Despite the lack of realistic romance and relationship development, the film is emotional enough to make its viewers feel something. This is evident in Lucy’s speech at the wedding and in the scene where Lucy asks why she never got promoted before, and Helen tells her it is because she never asked. In that one moment, I felt that every woman could relate to Lucy and her inclination to never go after what she truly wants — even though she’s qualified — for fear of being “too much” or “forward,” as if that is a bad thing.
To simply write off a film because you stand by the notion that “the books are always better than the film” is just wrong. It is not a crime for a film adaptation to be slightly different than its book, because the film can then become its own piece of art to be appreciated. If I wanted to watch a carbon copy of a book, I would simply just read the book. Some of my favorite films are adaptations that I consider better than their books, such as “A Walk to Remember,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “The Princess Diaries.” Without a doubt, there are adaptations that I cannot stand, like “The Kissing Booth” and “All the Bright Places,” but maybe Netflix is to blame.
Ultimately, it is the choice in the casting, the chemistry between actors and the overall plot that keeps me watching, not the consistencies between book and film. A film adaptation should not taint the way you read the book and they — shockingly — can be enjoyed separately. I think the essence of “The Hating Game” is absolutely translated into the film, and although the film isn’t perfect, I think it is still worth watching.
Daily Arts Writer Ava Seaman can be reached at email@example.com.