Why you should catch up with Modern Love
James R | On 18, Oct 2019
Season 2 premieres on 13th August 2021.
“Ok, enough’s enough. This isn’t La La Land. This is real life.” That’s Anne Hathaway in the best episode of Modern Love, Amazon’s new anthology series, which explores the ups and downs of love with a knowing sentimentality – and is at its best when avoiding the temptation of Hollywood sweetness.
The title likely won’t mean much to British viewers, unless they’re big into The New York Times, but it spawns from a long-running column of the same name, which charts real-life tales of romance in the Big Apple. The name of the show’s creator, John Carney, though, will ring much closer to home: an anthology series from the writer/director of Once and Sing Street? That’s immediate swipe right territory.
Carney’s clearly at home in this eight-part compendium of human connections, and the chance to see the astute observer of relationships given the freedom to relax and explore his familiar subject is one to treasure: he’s a writer and director with a knack for understated honesty and feel-good charm, and always gets good performances out of his cast.
All of those are true of Modern Love, which sweeps off our feet for a tour through the city’s lonely hearts. We begin with Maggie (Cristin Miloti), who lives in uptown New York and can’t find the right man. Her steady parade of suitors coming back to her apartment block is watched over by Guzim (Laurentiu Possa), her doorman. He claims to be able to spot straight away whether they’ll see her again, a mildly creepy ability that he balances out by being good with kids and dryly funny.
It’s an excellent turn by Laurentiu Possa, who complements Cristin Miloti’s earnest presence with a reserved, stoic air; together, they create a believable, gentle portrait of a platonic friendship. That ability to celebrate love in the form of friendship is one of Modern Love’s great strengths, with another episode hitting its peak when two women simply decide to tell the truth about their problems.
Indeed, another standout relationship is between two professionals, one a tech entrepreneur (the always-winning Dev Patel) and the other a journalist interviewing him (Catherine Keener). They end up reminiscing about ones that got away, and even them just sitting on a park bench exchanging monologues is a treat.
The cast maintains that high standard throughout, with other favourites including Andrew Scott as a gay man trying to adopt with his partner, and Tiny Fey and John Slattery as a married-too-long couple. Perhaps the biggest draw is Hathaway, who is fantastic in an episode about Lexi, a driven professional who balances trying to find love with bipolar depression. She moves from excitement and hope to self-doubt and loneliness seamlessly, often in the same scene.
Carney has some fun with depicting that swing in moods, including a hint of a dance number in a supermarket. That playful juxtaposition, which can’t help but bring to mind Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, smartly places the emphasis not on the music but on Lexi’s quieter moments; Hathaway is wonderfully star-like when Lexi imagines herself as Rita Hayworth on a good day, but it’s her crumpled performance of Lexi hiding under a duvet, daring to share her burden with the loved ones in her life, that really makes an impact.
As well as an unexpectedly thoughtful depiction of bipolar, it’s also a reminder of what makes Modern Love work: a shot of sadness to balance out the happiness. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that Fey and Slattery’s episode is another highlight, as it introduces us to a couple who spend their date nights going to therapy, arguing and catching a movie afterwards. Written by Sharon Horgan, of Catastrophe and Motherland, it’s a superbly acerbic number that relishes the salty insults as much as the swooning affection.
Carney’s own offerings err more on the side of whimsy, but at only 30 minutes in length, Modern Love’s occasionally uneven stories never last long enough to feel cloying. And running through it all, thanks to the excellent, open ensemble, is a stream of sincerity that ensures your heartstrings are always being tugged. “This isn’t La La Land. This is real life,” Hathaway tells herself, and us, as her uneven life unfolds with an intimate transparency. The result might not be as original or varied as Joe Swanberg’s similar, raw anthology, Easy, on Netflix, but Modern Love always looks to finds beauty in the mess of real life. Sometimes, that warm hug of positivity is precisely what you need from a TV show.
Modern Love is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.