Puppy Love is one of those made-for-TV type of rom-coms, and while there are certainly flaws to be found in some of the choices the film makes, it was a pretty decent way to spend 80 minutes of my Friday night.
Puppy Love follows characters Max (Grant Gustin) and Nicole (Lucy Hale). After quarantining by himself for most of the pandemic, Max has gotten used to the status quo of being alone. He also faces struggles heading back to the workplace after working from home these past few years. In a bid for laughs, the film presents all this in a humorous way, wanting us to laugh at Max when we should be feeling empathy for him.
If Max had been played by a lesser actor, the character would not felt remotely relatable. Gustin, who should really be in more rom-coms, delivers such a nuanced and complex performance. He deftly communicates the trauma Max has endured because of the pandemic – where he faced his own personal demons and the worldwide shutdown of life as he knows it. I think it’s one of the few modern films to properly capture that anxiety of stepping out into the real world again, and how there’s a general refusal to speak about a trauma that we collectively faced.
While Nicole appears to be functioning better, since she’s able to leave her apartment and go outside, her life’s a mess too, reflected a bit too on the nose by the messy interior of her home, and how she struggles to find clean clothes to wear. Despite her constant hookups, Nicole’s alone too, since she’s closed her heart off after her father’s passing a few years ago. What I appreciate about this film is that they show how destabilising such tragic events can be. Nicole’s entire life changed after what happened with her dad. When he got sick she couldn’t afford to go to college to be an artist, so she settled with being a professional stager instead. Both Max and Nicole have their lives on pause, until the doggos come into the picture.
Max is encouraged by his therapist to get a dog, since caring for the dog would take him outside his house at least once a day. So he goes to the animal shelter and adopts Chloe, who really is the sweetest dog. Gustin is so awkwardly charming, and it will put a smile on your face to see Max adapt to having Chloe in his life. Nicole gets her dog – named Channing Tatum – by chance. She sees him everyday by the rubbish bins outside her flat, and one day decides to clean him up and get him into a proper home, before discovering that the best home he has is with her.
Then Max and Nicole match on a dating app, and even though the date is disastrous, they’re forced back into each other’s lives after Channing Tatum knocks up Chloe. Like I said, the movie can’t resist throwing our characters into these asinine situations, but it is a testament to Gustin and Hale’s acting capabilities that the relationship between Max and Nicole ends up being quite beautiful and touching. Despite the chaotic start between the two of them, we can see why they’re good for each other, and I wish the film built in more romantic spaces as Gustin and Hale are clearly up to the task.
Both Max and Nicole were seeking connection, and they find it with their dogs and each other. Honestly, I could find more faults with this film if I wanted to, but the sweetness in it kind of won me over. Guess I’m just a sucker with no bone to pick.
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Puppy Love is a case where the actors manage to stretch the material and make it work. Gustin and Hale are terrific together, and I hope they both find their way into a better rom-com in the future.
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