I do not dislike romantic comedies. They are comforting, emotional and contain romance and optimism.
That is to say, none of the problems with Juana Marcías’s (“Under the Same Roof”) Spanish film “Sounds Like Love” stem from it being a rom-com. If anything, the problem is that it doesn’t seem to want to be one. Rather than committing to the genre, the film dances around romance by pairing two characters who should not be together.
In the film, protagonist Maca (María Valverde, “Araña”) makes comments like, “If this were a romantic comedy, it would start raining right now” and “If this really were a romantic comedy, I would have jumped into him arms already,” after which these things always happen. Because the love story is already weak, these comments depict the film’s resistance to the romantic comedy genre and cause confusion over what it is trying to be.
The film is set in Madrid and follows Maca after she discovers that her ex-boyfriend Leo (Álex González, “Orbiter 9”) is back. Leo had left her years before without explanation. With his return, Maca is confronted with the fact that she has not gotten over him or their relationship.
As any romantic comedy should, “Sounds Like Love” offers a take on the nature of love and relationships. According to Maca, who sums it up at the film’s conclusion, you need to love yourself before you can love someone else. However, this idea never appears in the film. The film’s actual theme, which is perhaps more interesting, is that being stuck in the past or fixated on returning to a previous relationship, while often romanticized, is not usually a good thing; instead, it is more important to move on with one’s life.
What becomes problematic is that the film is trying to do two things at once. While the film repeats the message that one should not get stuck in the past (which is emphasized by the fact that the characters are not meant to be together), it simultaneously tries to depict their love story as something worth rooting for. This causes an emotional whiplash that makes the characters confusing and unrelatable. One moment they are trying to ruin each other’s lives, and the next they are apologizing profusely and confessing their love to each other. Scenes of Maca and her friends realizing that they should move forward with their lives are followed by scenes of Maca and Leo kissing in the rain and looking for a house together. Because the film’s primary message is that being stuck in the past is bad, it is impossible to be invested in the love story — no matter how romantic it may seem.
Perhaps “Sounds Like Love” isn’t meant to be a romantic comedy. But outside of the romance, the story and characters do not improve. The other main storyline is Maca’s job: In short, it’s not good. We are told this at every opportunity. Her boss Pipa (Miri Pérez-Cabrero, “Someone Has to Die”) is a stereotype of the female influencer — uncaring, egotistical and superficial to an extreme degree. Her presence inevitably leads to jokes about how little she cares about her followers and the fact that she fasts for 20 hours a day (unlike Maca, the quirky and relatable protagonist who declares that “carbs are the best”). She disrespects Maca for not wearing heels. Maca makes occasional attempts at asking for better treatment, but these attempts do not lead to noteworthy plot developments and are treated instead as a running joke where she confronts her boss, only to receive more criticism.
Maca leaves her job in the end after receiving another offer in Paris. Because she was never shown trying to get a different job or even expressing a desire for one, this ending feels more like a way to rescue her from the relationship she clearly should leave but will not end on her own.
But until Maca is rescued, the film circles between admissions that she should move on and breakfast-in-bed-kissing-in-the-rain-everything-is-perfect scenes of her and Leo’s relationship. The conflict does not increase in tension or complexity; it simply repeats. Even the parts where Maca and Leo are happy together are overshadowed by the knowledge that they are stuck and should not be happy, which leads to no feelings of romance or comedy, but, at best, annoyance, and at worst, depression.
In trying to be a story about moving on while remaining a rom-com, “Sounds Like Love” fails on both accounts. The romantic plot so obviously should not be happening that it cannot be enjoyed. The characters’ inability to move on despite knowing they should makes what could have been a thought-provoking message feel insincere.
Daily Arts Contributor Erin Evans can be reached at email@example.com.