It's the most wonderful time of the year! As the pinch hitter critic here at Alternate Ending, it is my honor and privilege to take you on a guided tour through the best and worst of the terrible Christmas movies that get disgorged onto an unsuspecting public by the uncaring maw of Netflix every year. We're starting with a doozy: Love Hard, so titled because the led characters' favorite Christmas movies are Love, Actually and Die Hard. So if this movie was about myself and my boyfriend, it would be called Silent Night, Deadly TBD (he's Jewish).

The film follows Natalie (Nina Dobrev), a young Angelino who is so unlucky in love that she has made a living writing about her bad dates for a web publication called Soash Media (please excuse me while I vomit into this bucket). She's a modern Carrie Bradshaw, and by that I mean it makes no sense how she can afford her apartment. She begins to fall for a seemingly perfect man named Josh on a Tinder-type dating app (presumably the Tinder product placement team never returned Netflix's phone calls) and she pitches her boss (Matty Finochio) a new angle, in which she finds perfect love and happiness. He laughs in her face and says to stick to the dating disasters. By the weekend he wants to see some pages, which is definitely something your editor at a web publication will ask you for, let me assure you from experience.

Anyway, she wants to fly out to Lake Placid to surprise Josh for Christmas and is encouraged to do so by her work friend Kerry (Heather McMahan), who is a non-entity even on the special sliding scale we use for lead characters' friends in a Netflix rom-com. She's not even wallpaper. She's the paste that holds up the wallpaper. When Natalie arrives in New York state, she realizes that Josh (Jimmy O. Yang) has been catfishing her. The pictures he used were of a real Lake Placid denizen named Tag (Darren Barnet), who she still has a crush on, so he agrees to give her advice to get Tag to like her in exchange for her pretending to be his girlfriend so he can look good in front of his family. She agrees, because she might as well get an article out of it, as well as the $50 that the article will assuredly earn her.

Love Hard

Now, a Netflix holiday film is about as un-literary a text as you can find, but there's something specifically, cruelly anti-art about Love Hard that really rubs me the wrong way. I'm not even talking about the part where Natalie says her favorite novel is "a book of poems called Where the Sidewalk Ends." Perhaps it's the keenness with which the film attempts to characterize Natalie as an analytical consumer who has all of the Most Correct opinions about movies and books, despite every line she ever speaks being a regurgitated Twitter thread from someone who misunderstood the text in the first place. For instance, she says that Love, Actually is the Worst Christmas Film Ever because it's about how love is only dependant on what you look like on the outside. You know, rather than the fact that half its storylines are about people in positions of power at work bedding their employees.

And don't even get me started on the scene that attempts to humanize Josh by having him alter the lyrics to "Baby, It's Cold Outside" while caroling to make Natalie more comfortable, pitching the character who lied to this woman for literal weeks as a torchbearer for consent. Get me started even less on the fact that the song, while problematic on its own terms, is completely misunderstood by the Twitterati who think that one of the lines is about roofies even though the song was written a solid two decades before the drug was even invented. That is a rant for a different time, however, but does speak to the fact that this film is only interested in engaging in the most surface-level analysis of the issues its own characters purportedly care about.

Love Hard

However, despite the incredibly ruinous trappings this particular entry has decided to don, this film is otherwise a completely adequate invocation of the Netflix Christmas formula. It is content to let viewers sink deep into the warm bath of hoary clichés and predictable drama (though I personally draw the line at the sassy grandma and her "kiss her, you idiot!" finale). It's a rom-com that's light on both the rom and the com, but it doesn't particularly make you want to press your face against a hot iron, like the bulk of the Hallmark Christmas movie clones. And to be fair to the comic chops of the screenwriter, could any one of us pen a corporate-mandated joke about the Verizon Unlimited Plan that slaps? Didn't think so.

Love Hard does at least boast a cadre of overqualified actors playing Josh's family (including James Saito and Harry Shum Jr.), because Hollywood writes so few roles for Asian actors that it's easy to get even the good ones for a project this inconsequential. I call it "Tyler Perry syndrome." This didn't prevent me from wishing the movie was set in the other Lake Placid so a giant crocodile would come eat everybody and end the movie early. But still, it's nice.

Brennan Klein is a millennial who knows way more about 80's slasher movies than he has any right to. He's a former host of the Attack of the Queerwolf podcast and a current senior movie/TV news writer at Screen Rant. You can find his other reviews on his blog Popcorn Culture. Follow him on Twitter or Letterboxd, if you feel like it.