Hating the player: A critique of The Hating Game movie

I am a huge fan of Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game – the book, that is.

It’s one of the best romances I’ve ever read, mostly because it manages to sustain romantic tension from beginning to end – an extremely rare feat, in my experience. 

The movie, on the other hand…

Ok. I ‘hate’ to be mean right out of the gate, so let’s start with some positives.

Lucy Hale is well-cast as adorable publishing assistant and strawberry-lover Lucy Hutton. (Yeah, you read that right, they even share the same first name!)

Also, it’s a good looking movie. The leads are attractive, and the office set is thoughtfully decorated. Plus, the film features a winter wedding that made me wish I’d gotten married when snow was falling.

And, some of the dialogue is pretty good.

Alright. Now I will say some critical things.

I ‘hate’ to point fingers, but I think the problem with the movie is Austin Stowell, who stars as Josh Templeman, Lucy’s work adversary and competitor for ‘the big promotion’.

He’s good looking, yes. But I’m afraid that’s just not enough.

He’s just so boring. He lacks charisma. His line delivery is unconvincing. His voice is… annoying. He’s just a plain ol’ dead weight. Or, lightweight, maybe. 

Like, in the acting department.

Josh is supposed to be cool, reserved, clever, in control, knowing. But here he’s far too earnest and plaintive and just sorta… unappealing?

I don’t know. He just didn’t work for me.

But maybe I’m too harsh. What made the book really work is probably impossible to pull off on screen, so it’s not entirely Mr Stowell’s fault.

You see, the book is told solely from Lucy’s first-person POV. It relies on her unreliable narration, her staunch conviction that she and Josh are, fundamentally, enemies.

Josh is a bit of an enigma. We don’t get inside his head at all.

But we can see, through his actions, something Lucy is plainly unaware of: He likes her. A lot.

But she’s completely clueless.

And that’s what makes the book work so well. She is oblivious, and he gently seduces her, since she might be scared away if he’s too direct.

The book is all secret-pining-wooing-waiting, which generates unbelievable tension. It’s a masterpiece of pitting her ‘telling’ against his ‘showing’.

But how do you depict that on screen?

Well, you need a very good script. And, you need a very good actor to play Josh Templeman. He has to be able to depict layers, intentions that are at odds with the character’s behaviour.

This is a tall order for a rom-com actor, I realize. For any actor. And maybe my hopes were just a tad too high. Plus, I’ll admit, I’m extremely picky.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Romance is hard. Or, good romance is hard, anyway.

I can’t help wondering what the film might have been like if Robbie Amell, who was outstanding in The DUFF, had ended up playing Josh – as was the original plan before he had scheduling conflicts.

I don’t know if he could have pulled off Josh Templeman exactly as I imagine he should have been played, but I’m guessing his performance would have been more interesting to watch.

I didn’t ‘hate’ this movie. It was just… forgettable. And not very romantic. Just sort of… meh. For me, the exact opposite of the book.

So read the book instead. Or watch The DUFF. Either way, you’ll have a lot more fun.

The Hating Game FAQs

Why is it called The Hating Game?

Josh and Lucy sit across from each other at work, and play various ‘games’ to torment each other – staring, or copy-cat, etc. And, they ‘hate’ each other – for a short while at the beginning of the movie, anyway.

Where is this movie set?

Interestingly, in the book, the setting isn’t named – maybe to make the story more universal? It’s one of the few weaknesses of the novel – it lacks a sense of place.

The movie suffers from the same problem, although it’s overtly set in New York – at least the panning shots tell me it is. The Big Apple. Or, the Bland Apple, in this case, since it never really feels like New York.

The movie could have been more ‘populated’ overall – like, maybe highlight some of the recurrent office colleagues a bit more? And add more crowds to the street scenes? Without these things, the movie feels a bit empty.

The trip to the wedding does add some much-needed texture, however – snow and hills and Christmas!

What’s the conflict?

Josh and Lucy hate each other because the publishing companies they worked for merged, and his company published solely for profit, and hers was more about ‘art’. Plus, he was responsible for laying off some of her friends to keep the merged company afloat. He seems heartless, and she is a people-pleasing pushover, so there’s personality conflict.

Then, there’s the big promotion they both want – and the winner will likely end up the boss of the loser.

The problem is, the promotion storyline is very much background material, not really the locus of the story (this is true in the book, too). And when Lucy and Josh pretty quickly start acting friendly (and more), it’s easy to forget any real conflict exists.

How similar/different is the movie from the book?

The movie is surprisingly true to the book throughout – there are really no big plot differences at all. Of course, some of the details differ. For example:

  • Lucy’s eyes are green in the movie, not blue – but the plot point involving her eye colour is pretty much all there, it just comes off as less romantic and more creepy in the movie
  • She initiates the kiss in the elevator, not the other way around
  • She not only collects Smurfs, but also writes Smurf FanFic (I hope this isn’t a real thing, but regrettably, I suspect that it is)

If you want a list of differences more comprehensive than I could ever produce, check out this Buzzfeed article.

How could the movie have been improved?

If they’d cast a better actor, better suited to the role of Josh, the romance might have been more effective.

Also, Lucy and Josh seem too settled and resolved, too soon – I think we viewers needed more reminders of the wedge between them to up the tension. And Lucy could have been less trusting and more skittish, as she was in the book.

A few more stolen glances would have been welcome, and more close-ups, please, to show romantic angst! And a bit more humour might have helped. 

Any favourite moments?

When Josh sees Lucy in her sexy dress – too bad they ruined it with a pratfall.

When he checks out her apartment, absorbing all this new info about her – though I think this could have been played up a bit. (More close-ups!!)

What was that about an elevator kiss? 

I believe some people found the book a bit ‘problematic’ – one of their concerns is that Josh kisses Lucy in an elevator out of the blue, without any sign of consent, and after stopping the elevator so she’s stuck with him.

Yes, if one of my colleagues did this in real life, it would be a problem. But, I have to say, it’s one of my favourite scenes in the book. It shows how Josh feels, without any explanation needed.

I knew the movie would have to wipe clean the lack of consent, so I wasn’t surprised that Lucy ends up initiating the kiss after Josh stops the elevator, plus there’s some heavy dialogue and eye contact first (so, not really a kiss out of the blue). I thought this change sucked the scene dry, and radically altered the pair’s dynamic from what it was in the book.

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