Review: Modern Love
Tabby Burnett finds Amazon’s Modern Love to be an uneven but worthwhile collage of stories.
We’re living in strange, paradoxical times where love, in all its wonderfully numerous forms, is both incredibly simple and frighteningly complex. As our society becomes increasingly accepting of all the different ways in which we choose to love and be loved, so too must our media reflect such changes. There are a growing number of shows that celebrate love on the level of humanity, throwing away constrictive and outdated divides of gender, sexuality, race, class and culture. Sense8 embodied this evolution: the way modern love could be both perceived and represented, of one human being loving another human being. No more, no less. Modern Love, though not nearly as radical as Sense8 in this regard, is nevertheless a part of this ongoing dialogue: what stories do we tell, how do we tell them, and why do they matter?
Modern Love is an anthology series based on the New York Times’ weekly column that looks at relationships, revelations, love and human connection. Each of the eight thirty-minute episodes follows a different tale, with a different cast. As with any anthology series, some episodes are better than others – I would say episodes four and six are the weaker of the bunch. In Rallying to Keep the Game Alive (episode four), Sarah (Tina Fey) and Dennis (John Slattery) try and fix their dying marriage by reconnecting over a shared hobby: it’s the most familiar and normative of the narratives, and by far the dullest. In So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right? (episode six), a young woman forms an attachment to her older co-worker because he reminds her of the father she never really had: it’s a complex love web that struggles to address the Freudian elements in a mature enough way, instead unravelling into a cringy and uncomfortable tale that feels a little mishandled.
Modern Love is so achingly embracive of not just rom-com tropes, but also everything in between, that it feels a tad harsh to condemn it.
Episodes one, two and three stood out as particularly strong, all directed by John Carney. The episodes examine the friendship between a single mother (Cristin Milioti) and her doorman (Laurentiu Possa); a dating-app designer (the ever-charismatic Dev Patel) who, ironically struggling in love himself, takes advice from a journalist (Catherine Keener), whose marriage is also on the rocks; and a woman who interrogates how her bipolar disorder has affected the relationships in her life (an incredibly moving performance from Anne Hathaway). I’m not ashamed to say I cried in all three of these episodes. Well, maybe slightly ashamed. It’s here that I acknowledge Modern Love as being rather emotionally manipulative. Usually, I’m not a fan of such obvious plot beats and contrivances, but Modern Love is so achingly embracive of not just rom-com tropes, but also everything in between, that it feels a tad harsh to condemn it. It does feel fresh, as well as familiar.
Modern Love delves into the difficulties, the intricacies and the wonders of love: the many different forms that love can take and the different ways it can be communicated. Sometimes, it’s dropping off an umbrella for a friend because you know they didn’t have one and it’s about to rain. Sometimes, it’s waiting in hospital with someone when they’ve cut their arm open on a martini glass. And sometimes, it’s opening your home up to a stranger because you want to adopt their unborn baby. Love doesn’t discriminate. It’s a feeling that is both the simplest thing in the world and the most world-shattering.
Modern Love doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It just tells us that the wheel can be pretty darn awesome sometimes.