I’ve heard that “Love Is A Battlefield”…
While it plays inside some themes a little too broadly at times, The New Romantic mostly works as an interesting mediation on the separations of sex and love and how they can ultimately define us.
Blake Conway (Jessica Barden) is an aspiring journalist, hopeless romantic and college senior who is also a little terrified of graduating. In order to escape her looming post-graduation fate that includes student debt and zero romantic prospects, she becomes a sugar baby. As she documents the adventure in the hopes of winning a journalism award with a generous cash prize, she sets out on a quest to figure out if society is right to judge these woman and if her own self worth comes with a price.
From first time writer/director Carly Stone; The New Romantic while not without some overly generic logic and the occasional plot point glossed over is actually a very intelligent look at the issues of sexual politics that young people have to contend with and finding that balance between sex and genuine emotional connection via actual human relationships, something that tends to get lost in our new era where ‘swiping right’ counts as interaction with an actual person.
For a first time feature, the film certainly does have a strong sense of style and self identity even though it is one rooted in a degree of feigned confidence from our protagonist. Everything that goes on in this movie does have a clear purpose but on occasion things left a little too rushed and shoehorned just in order to get the point across.
Yes our heroine does something sort of horrible in the name of journalism and self exploration, but the real world tolls of her actions kind of get glossed over and never feel relevant as the film just wants us to focus on the fact that men are generally horrible or just dumb (well most of them) and the issues that she is trying to explore are just way more important. I don’t mind (and actually enjoyed) the character’s internal debate about judging women who go down this path, but there were some pretty heavy blinders on everyone in her orbit until the final act of the film and comes off as more than a little awkward that no one in her support system threw up any kind of warning flags about her new ‘arrangement’ while researching her column.
It could have all easily gone off the rails, but the material is strong thematically and has a great leading performance to bring it over the goal line.
Jessica Barden comes across here with a strong performance as a young woman who can feign self confidence in many areas but is still pretty lost when it comes to love. She looks very young, but that actually adds to the performance because while she’s still mostly in control of her surrounding and dictating the terms of her ‘sugar baby’ lifestyle, we still need to be a little grossed out by it. She walks the line of it all quite well, and makes us as an audience feel her awkward moments in just the right spots.
Sadly the rest of the ensemble was woefully underwritten as most of the male characters were either under written, casually terrible to women or both and only Hayley Law as Blake’s best friend Nikki got the occasional moment of character to shine in the film.
Ultimately, The New Romantic shows genuine promise as it tries to intelligently tackle some complex social and sexual issues for young women today with a leading lady who was more then up to the challenge. However it could have been something truly special if the supporting players had just been a little more fleshed out and defined.