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November 29, 2021

The 12 Days of Netflix Christmas Movies: 'Love Hard'

Starring Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang, this new offering from Netflix has plenty going for it, but is it worth checking out this holiday season?

Movies Christmas
Love-Hard-Netflix_112721 Bettina Strauss/Netflix

Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang in Netflix's "Love Hard."

Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year. No, not the time of year when you gather with friends and family and everyone you love to celebrate making it through another year by exchanging expensive gifts and drinking way too much. We're talking about the time of year where it's actually socially acceptable to watch Christmas movies.

Outside of the mainstream theatrical holiday films, there have also been the made-for-TV masterpieces, most notably the Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (and to a lesser extent Lifetime Christmas movies). Those are... much less reliable and often fall into the genre of the kind of movies you'd typically expect to find on those channels. 

The 12 Days of Netflix Christmas Movies: 'The Knight Before Christmas' | 'The Holiday Calendar' | 'A Castle for Christmas' | 'Holidate' | 'Holiday in the Wild' | 'Father Christmas is Back' | 'The Princess Switch' | 'Klaus' | 'The Christmas Chronicles' | 'A Christmas Prince' | 'A Boy Called Christmas'

But in the last three of four years, a new genre of Christmas movie has been created: The Netflix Christmas Movie™️ (or NCM for short). And just like with their regular content, they've been churning out NCMs at a breakneck pace. Sure, there are plenty of those craptastic Hallmark- and Lifetime-type movies also available on Netflix, but the streaming giant already has multiple trilogies of their own, plus others that have sequels and spin-offs and even some existing in the same cinematic universe, the Netflix Christmas Universe, one that will conceivably continue to expand until we reach the singularity when all of the known universe is consumed by either the Netflix or Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

But for this exercise, we're going to stick to Netflix originals. And we're going to review them. Not all of them, but 12 of them (technically more since we'll be grouping the trilogies together) over the next few weeks as we present to you the 12 Days of Netflix Christmas Movies. So sit back, grab a cup of hot chocolate (or spiked eggnog if you prefer) and let's get started... 

[NOTE: All of what follows comes with the disclaimer that I'm full aware I'm reviewing Netflix Christmas movies and not Academy Award contenders, so when I say something is "a good movie" it's all relative. And as a warning, while some of these movies may be family friendly, others are not. As such, these reviews might be a little NSFW at times, and may also contains some spoilers but, come on, it's a Netflix Christmas movie.]

LOVE HARD (2021)

Tweet-length review: "What are you talking about? It’s a cute and flirty Christmas duet." It's certainly "cute" and "flirty," but I'm not so sure about the "Christmas" part...

You might recognize: Nina Dobrev ("The Vampire Diaries," "Degrassi: The Next Generation"); Jimmy O. Yang ("Silicon Valley"); Harry Shum Jr. ("Glee," "Crazy Rich Asians")

The plot: A relationship writer named Natalie (Dobrev) travels across the country to surprise Josh (Yang), a guy she recently met online, for Christmas. But when she arrives, she finds out that she was catfished, and not only is Josh not who he said he was, but the person he was pretending to be is a real guy who lives in town. 

Josh and Natalie agree that in exchange for her playing the role of his girlfriend over the holidays, he'll help set her up with Tag, the guy whose photos he was using in his online profile (and yes, that's his real name). But living in a small town comes with its disadvantages, one of them being that it's very hard to keep your relationship(s) a secret — and eventually it catches up to the duo as they try to avoid getting caught in their lie. 

What makes it terrible: There isn't a lot that makes this movie terrible, especially in comparison to some of the other titles we'll come across this month. Honestly, it's one of the better Christmas movies I've seen recently — but that's just the problem. Is this even a Christmas movie? It's a meta conversation the writers are basically openly having with themselves throughout the movie, starting right from the top when Natalie and Josh get into an argument during their first text exchange about whether or not "Die Hard" is a Christmas movie. And depending on where you stand on that argument, you’ll probably feel the same way about "Love Hard." Oh my god, is that why that’s the title?

Beyond the fact that the only thing that really makes this a Christmas movie being the time of year it takes place and the Christmas music in the background — and as someone who counts "Die Hard" as a Christmas movie I can easily get past that fact — there was one huge, gaping plot hole that I struggled to get past the entire time. These two meet online, and Natalie (and to a greater degree her hilarious best friend) is wary from the start that this might be a catfish situation. And their only requirement is that they see a photo of "Josh" holding a piece of paper that says "Bye Natalie" on it? Do you know how easy that is? And more importantly, do you know what FaceTime is?

They spend hours and days — literal days — talking to each other on their iPhones, and not once does Natalie think to FaceTime with "Josh" before flying across the country to surprise him? I don't want to say you deserved to be catfished, but...

Finally, my only other real complaint here is that this movie probably could've been about 20 minutes shorter, but overall it was good enough that I didn't really mind in the end. 

What makes it good: It's funny, plain and simple. It's not the funniest movie ever — and remember, we're grading on a curve here — but there were enough moments that will likely make it worth revisiting in future years. Let's quickly run through a few reasons why, since unlike most of the movies we'll mention this one won't be getting a list of Christmas tropes (it really only had the dead parents one that we've seen a few times already): 

• Jimmy O. Yang is hilarious. I loved him as Jin Yang in "Silicon Valley," but this really showed another side of him, and while I was skeptical going in about his ability to carry a movie, he was great.

• Nina Dobrev was also very good. Leads in rom-coms — and let's not get it twisted, that's what this is — can sometimes be hard to like, but that was not the case here at all.

• The rest of the cast is funny as well. Nina's boss, Lee (Matty Finochio), was hilarious, and there's nothing quite like seeing a grown man use Shake Weights (you don’t have to watch "South Park" to know what you look like when you’re using those things). As previously mentioned, her best friend (Heather McMahan) was also great and even could've used some more screen time, as she was last seen pouring hard liquor into a coffee mug and abruptly hanging up the phone because her sponsor was on the other line. And Eric, or should I say E-Rock. You'll know him when you see him. 

• There's a scene where Josh's family goes caroling and suddenly they're breaking it down like Pentatonix, which is followed up by a remake of "Baby It's Cold Outside" that I wanted to hate, but couldn't, again largely because of Yang's delivery. A similarly funny scene also involves signing, with Dobrev's character doing karaoke while her face swells up like a Chucky doll due to an allergic reaction.

• As someone who has spent hours smelling candles in Marshall’s, I respect Josh’s hustle. I'd be a customer.

• The engagement party scene gave me agita and felt like something out of Birdman, which was probably the intent. And E-Rock was there. 

Rating: On a scale from a partridge in a pear tree to 12 drummers drumming, this one gets 10 lords a-leaping. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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