Masters of Love uses classic rom-com conventions to tell a comical chronicle about connection in the 21st Century.
The right rom-com can simultaneously serve as a soothing salve for any stressors or struggles we’re experiencing and as an escape from our everyday responsibilities in the “real-world.” Sure, it can be argued that most of these films follow a familiar “formula,” but isn’t that the point? Audiences don’t typically seek out a romantic comedy for some “challenging” and “compelling” commentary on the “chaos our country is facing” or for a “mind-bending” and “mystifying” meditation on “morality” and “the meaning of life.” People go to watch protagonists like themselves face the problems they’re fighting as well and come out on top – hopefully with their true love in tow. Over the years, we’ve moved away from some of the tacky theatrics and preposterous plotting that plagued the genre in the 90’s and the early 00’s, but even as recent rom-coms aim for more realism, their consoling comforts and precious pleasures have remained constant.
Taking after the trends of today, writer-director Matt Roberts’ Masters of Love is the most recent rom-com to attempt to mold the genre’s well-worn structure into a movie that complies with the customary clichés and conventions while also appealing to a modern-day Millennial audience. Whereas similar films have faltered by trying too hard to feel “relevant” and “relatable,” Masters of Love treats its core demographic with compassion instead of contempt, resulting in a story that has few surprises but substantial smarts and sensitivity all the same. With a script that both deftly tackles “dating in the 21st Century” and additionally analyzes the resolutions of relationships in a rewarding but realistic manner, Masters of Love stands out amidst its imitators and delivers a disciplined and delightful 83-minute diversion that all should enjoy.
Masters of Love concentrates on an electrifying ensemble cast full of charming characters, but it primarily spotlights the strains in the love lives of Emmy (Sarah Ovens, of Pink Wall and Diana), Josh (Owen Roberts, of The Haunted Gun and Snug as a Bug), and Niall (Ciarán Dowd, of Fighting With My Family and Keith Lemon: Coming in America). Emmy is engaged to her genial girlfriend Sam (Eleanor Fanyinka, of Common People and the upcoming Tom and Jerry), but she finds herself in constant conflict with the concept of “impending adulthood,” and she’s tormented by the thought of losing out on opposing possibilities in life after getting married. At the same time, Emmy’s brother Josh has just been dumped by his girlfriend of five years, and he finds himself out of his element as he tries to navigate the digital dating landscape while also contending with complications in his career. Meanwhile, Josh’s roommate Niall, an aspiring stand-up comedian, aims to turn his “friend-with-benefits” Lily (Bekka Bowling, of The Great Unwashed and the upcoming The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard) into a full-time lover in order to cope with his loneliness, but these earnest efforts prove to be more exacting than expected.
Though none of these subplots may feel particularly “fresh” on first glance, Roberts’ sharp, shrewd script is full of deliciously droll dialogue and an admirable authenticity that elicits engagement regardless. At the start, one may roll their eyes at these stereotypical set-ups, but Roberts is able to balance the broader themes he’s tackling (about the myriad of messes combated by Millennial couples) alongside considerate and clever character development for his core trio. Yes, Roberts has much to express and explore when it comes to the “rules” around today’s relationships, but he never lets his grander goals overshadow the plights or personalities of his protagonists. And while each lead’s storyline is meant to shine a light on a specific strife, the characters are not mere mouthpieces for Roberts’ musings. Emmy, Josh, and Niall all feel like fully fleshed-out individuals with idiosyncrasies and defining traits that make them seem as if they could leap off the screen and take a seat right next to you. As a result, their tales ring true, and it’s easier to believe in their emotions and experiences. Because Roberts spends the extra time elaborating on these individuals’ identities and creating a connection between his characters and his audience, his overarching statements are able to soar as well.
Ovens, Roberts, and Dowd all turn in wonderful work as Emmy, Josh, and Niall, respectively, and they bring a lived-in legitimacy to their parts that punctuates the purity of the proceedings. Roberts is perhaps the most comical of the crew, and his sly, self-deprecating sense of humor allows Josh to appear as jocose joy whenever he’s featured, despite the despair he endures. Ovens has to manage most of the melodrama in the movie, but her dedication to these distressing developments prevents her plotline from coming across as overly cloying or corny, and her continual chemistry with Fanyinka’s Sam complements the overall credibility of the film. Dowd delivers Niall’s despondency quite well, but it’s Bowling’s buoyant Lily who truly livens up their narrative and provides the passion to this pairing (while also captivatingly complicating circumstances by furthering a fleeting flirtation with Roberts’ Josh as well).
Even though Masters of Love may have a familiar foundation, Roberts crafts a conclusion that runs contrary to classic rom-com climaxes and refuses to tidily tie up all of the story threads. Certain “happy” endings arrive with an air of ambiguity that suggests that these “finales” may not last forever, and other characters receive no concrete resolution to their woes whatsoever – and it works! Roberts fittingly forbids his film from having a “fairy tale” finish, and this conscious choice is consistent with his earlier commitment to candor, allowing his commentary on modern-day couples to be conveyed without constraint. Nevertheless, even with a less-than-dreamlike denouement, Masters of Love is a delectable delight, and its synthesis of smart screenwriting and charismatic characterization is too dazzling to deny.
Signature Entertainment presents Masters of Love on Digital HD from July 13th.