It’s summertime (where I live, anyway), so the ‘perfect’ time to watch a frothy, fluffy romance – like Netflix’s A Perfect Pairing, which is well-qualified as summertime viewing:
- It’s about wine and wineries (and sheep!)
- It stars a former Nickelodeon child actor, Victoria Justice – What is it about former child actors and light romance?
- It’s a Netflix Original – I would say most Netflix romances fall squarely into the ‘light’ category
Before I begin my critique, let me just clarify that I am in fact talking about the Netflix film, A Perfect Pairing, and not the Hallmark romance of the same name that also came out this year. Wouldn’t want anyone to be confused.
A promising start
A Perfect Pairing is the story of Lola Alvarez (Justice), an ambitious, uber-talented wine saleswoman/sommelier/importer who quits her job when her coworker and meanie-boss take false credit for her work.
Not one to sit around pouting, Lola instantly heads to Australia, and attempts to land a deal as the exclusive US importer of a fabulous new Outback wine (and teach her meanie-boss a lesson!).
When she gets there and is deemed too inexperienced to land the importing gig, she (weirdly) falls into working as a labourer on the winery owner’s sheep station – I guess to convince the owner of her tenacity and work ethic?? I’m not sure – I think I missed a scene.
What follows is Lola gamely doing things like:
- Giving it her all in sheep-herding, sheep-shearing, and other sheep-related activities
- Winning over crusty bunkmates
- Saving the life of an aged sheep destined for slaughter
- Leading a campfire sing along with her professional-caliber voice
- Trying vegemite (though I don’t think she gave it enough of a chance), and
- Ooh-ing and ahh-ing over beautiful Outback sunsets
So far, so good.
This is where the movie kinda works. Lola is plucky and charming, and her unflagging optimism is refreshing.
But… A romance can only go so far on charm and optimism.
Good romance needs character development
You can’t take a fiction writing class without encountering the concept of character growth – the idea is that characters should change and learn through the course of a story.
But, does this expectation apply to romance? Do characters in romances really need to become better people??
I’d say, yes. Maybe not morally better, there doesn’t have to be a life lesson. This isn’t Aesop. But even romance characters should grow and change to some degree.
Why? Because a story of any kind should resolve a conflict. And in most effective romances, the main conflict is an internal one – something inside the main characters that serves as a barrier to that happily ever after.
And, in order to resolve that kind of conflict, at least one of your characters – ideally your central character – has to resolve some internal angst. So, they have to realize or learn something, even if it’s something simple – like how to be vulnerable. Otherwise, the characters don’t earn their happy ending – it’s just bestowed on them from on high.
Good romance requires vulnerable characters
Soooo… The problem with Lola in A Perfect Pairing is that she is inert and unchanging – a one-note character. She’s a puppy dog bounding around, always game, always upbeat, and certainly fun to hang out with – but not much use if you’re looking for human connection.
Lola starts out knowing and being everything she ends up knowing and being – she has nowhere to grow. And the story just happens around her.
Basically, she’s invulnerable. There’s never a risk she’ll fail. She’s so resilient, she’ll rebound happily no matter what happens. In fact, she leaves the hero behind at the end (before he chases after her), and seems perfectly at ease doing it.
Being invulnerable means she never really seems at risk of being hurt. And romance doesn’t really work if there’s no risk that your characters will get hurt.
Good romance needs romantic tension
You could argue that Lola’s love interest, hunky sheep station manager, Max Vaughn (Adam Demos), is the character who grows and changes. And, yes, he’s the one who needs to get over something for the romance to succeed. But, he’s not the main character in this movie, and I found him a tad creepy, so his storyline doesn’t have much impact.
When Lola and Max meet, she gives no indication of attraction – which I liked, in a way. Too much fawning and fainting over a guy can be a bit ‘cringe’ and uncomfortable.
But… attraction is a big part of romance (don’t you think?). There should be a spark from the outset, even if the characters don’t become romantic for a while.
So, they spend some time together, with Max showing Lola how to herd sheep, shovel manure, and carry out other sheep tasks. And at one point, Lola does ogle Max while he bales some hay while shirtless. And, he does pick her up at one point (that classic move), and they look pointedly into one another’s eyes.
But, I don’t know. I just wasn’t feeling it.
Maybe because tension is created by pulling apart two characters who want to be together. But there was nothing pulling them apart.
And there wasn’t much drawing them together, either. Max seems to like her, I guess, but with her constant one-note glibness, Lola doesn’t really seem that affected.
Good romance doesn’t seem like it could be just a hookup
Max and Lola struck me as friends. So when Max invites Lola for a casual swim in her underwear, it seems a bit awkward – especially since he’s kind of (though maybe not technically) her boss.
Then he invites her on an overnight work trip, alone, and quickly pulls their beds together when she expresses fear about snakes. Then they kiss, and the camera pans away, so we can imagine things proceed…
But, don’t worry if you’re uncomfortable with that kind of thing, because the next day he talks about ‘when we kissed’, like things didn’t get any further than a smooch! (Netflix playing it safe again, methinks.)
The thing is, I can buy Lola and Max hooking up. They’re two attractive people, friendly, who live oceans apart (so no emotional messiness). I totally buy that they might just end up getting it on, no strings attached. Makes perfect sense.
The problem is, their relationship never seems like more than a hook up.
Good romance needs romantic conflict
There’s nothing really keeping Lola and Max apart – except, ultimately, distance.
So, the filmmakers try to shoehorn in a romantic conflict right near the end of the film; Lola is outraged to learn that Max is actually co-owner of the sheep station/winery and was lying to her all along! (Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s really impossible not to guess this.)
It’s a ridiculous conflict, and I have no idea why she’s upset about it. He had his reasons for lying, and it wasn’t like he was betraying her.
It underscores how lukewarm her feelings are, that his revelation causes her to walk away from him, without a backward glance.
There is another conflict in the movie – Lola’s goal of succeeding in her wine importing business. It’s the only reason I watched until the closing credits – I wanted to see her stick it to her meanie ex-boss.
But it’s not a good sign for a romance when a non-romantic conflict ends up being more of a draw.
Good romance needs a dramatic climax
Sadly, the filmmakers didn’t even capitalize on that side storyline!
Lola’s meanie-boss arrives in Australia to try to manipulate her back to working for him, which he fails to do. But, he still wins the import deal, which he later bungles offscreen. So, we never even get to see his come-uppance, we only hear about it second hand.
And how do we see Lola finally winning the big contract? In some climactic finale?
Nope. We only see her win the big import deal when Max, ignoring all signs indicating she’s not that into him, follows her to America. Then, at a wine industry event, he declares that he’s now in charge of the winery and will grant her that coveted contract.
Which kinda makes it seem like she only succeeds because her boyfriend is in charge.
Surely there was a better way to handle that??
Netflix has let me down once again
I feel a bit ‘sheepish’ as I finish writing this critique. After all, a movie like A Perfect Pairing isn’t a serious movie, it’s not even a serious romance. Maybe I shouldn’t be so critical.
I’m not sure if Netflix is even aiming much higher than Hallmark fare with movies like this.
Netflix’s business model is to try to be everything to everyone, which is why I’m wary of them. Casting a wide net usually means creating content that is bland and inoffensive.
And with A Perfect Pairing, I think they’ve succeeded. Check and check.