Amazon’s Original series Modern Love delivers a second anthology of eight stories adapted from the New York Times column and popular podcast of the same name. A perfect treat for romance lovers, each episode chronicles a different tale of love whether it be platonic or romantic, life-long or fleeting. Season 2 is a comfortable and relatable collection which is perfectly bingeable and unfortunately forgettable. It runs into the same problem as its predecessor in that it has yet to conquer the short format. While short films often benefit from the succinct storytelling, many of these 30-minute episodes feel under-developed, giving the audience very few tales to really dig their teeth into. From New York at night to Dublin on a train, love is in the air, for some more convincingly than others.
Written by Tresca Mallon
On a Serpentine Road, With the Top Down
(Written and Directed by John Carney, starring Minnie Driver and Tom Burke)
Minne Driver, whipping out her surprisingly brilliant Irish accent, plays a doctor who is struggling with the decision of selling her late husband’s vintage car. Facing financial pressure and influence from her new partner, she contemplates the thought of letting go of the last piece of her deceased first love.
John Carney, the showrunner, skillfully deals with the complicated nature of love, grief and memory. A simplistic tale of the survival of love long after death and the marks we leave behind. There is a hint of emotional manipulation but this often comes with the territory of the dead spouse trope. There is no major drama and at the core the conflict is an everyday situation which is fitting as death is a normal part of life.
The Night Girl Finds a Day Boy
(Directed by Jesse Peretz, written by Sarah Heyward and starring Gbenga Akinnagbe and Zoe chao)
Zoe Chao plays an introvert living with delayed sleep phase syndrome, which means she is awake all night and sleeps all day. She meets a man (Gbenga Akinnagbe) in a late night diner and they quickly fall for eachother. The issue is his life is during the day and hers is at night. Despite being initially intrigued by her lifestyle, Zoe’s patterns start to cause a rift in the relationship.
This episode is an extreme example in the argument against codependency. In the end they realise that their trouble was caused by a need to occupy each other's lives completely, which no one can ever really do. Akinnagbe and Chao have an easy chemistry which makes the relationship comfortable and authentic. Both characters are loveable and quirky. However, many of their relationship issues are quite pretentious and aren’t overly relatable to those outside a metropolitan, young professional dating pool.
Strangers on a (Dublin) Train
(Written and Directed by John Carney, starring Kit Harrington and Lucy Boynton)
A classic meet cute. Two strangers find each other on a train to Dublin and agree that instead of exchanging numbers they will meet back at the train station in two weeks time. Then the lockdown hits. Think “Before Sunrise” but Irish and in a global pandemic.
Questionable accents aside (no Irish actors were available for these roles I suppose) this was very cute. The dialogue has some comedic gems and who knew Kit Harrington was funny? Showrunner John Carney is obviously a huge fan of romance films as they have defined his career and this episode pays homage to the genre. There is a playful self-awareness with the use of tropes and ironic cliche. The original songs on the train and in the soundtrack enhance the light-hearted air while somewhat breaking the fourth wall. Carney wants us to know that he is aware it’s cheesy and he loves it. While it’s still very early to be making art surrounding the ongoing pandemic, the setting didn’t feel jarring as one might expect. The cultural references to early 2020 such as “Listen to Gal Gadot and all her celebrity mates,” already feel bizarrely nostalgic and the elbow bump at the station in place of a kiss made the entire episode. However, this episode would have benefitted from a feature-length treatment, allowing us to get to know both characters better, or at least a more satisfying ending!
A Life Plan For Two, Followed By One
(Directed by Marta Cunningham, starring Dominique Fishback and Isaac Powell)
A story of unrequited love. Lil meets Vince her first day at a new school when she moves from Ohio to Brooklyn. She falls for him immediately but Vince thinks of her as just a friend. After years of friendship will one disastrous night ruin their friendship?
A fairly cliched story of the complications of platonic love. With the feel of a low budget teen flick and dialogue fit for a tired B-Movie, this episode did very little with the talent it had. Dominique Fishback, who stunned this year in Judas and the Black Messiah, makes a valiant effort to bring some life to the short. However, with a flat premise even a brilliant performance couldn’t save it. Without a doubt the weakest link of the season.
Am I…? Maybe This Quiz Will Tell Me
(Directed by Logan George and Celine Held, starring Pearl Zeldin and Telchi Huynh)
The only love story with Gen Z subjects follows Lulu, a middle schooler who has her first crush. And it’s on a girl. Lulu uses Buzzfeed quizzes to figure out “am I gay?”
This is a simplistic and cute capsule of a queer teens first crush. The teenagers actually look their age; acne, crooked teeth and all, and it’s refreshingly realistic. In this way it achieves what “A life plan for two…” couldn’t. The interweaving of the teens’ use of social media into the narrative feels well researched, if clunky at times. The dialogue leaves a lot to be desired and favours long sequences of running and incoherent chatter. While sweet, there is little depth to the characters and so little encouragement to invest in their outcome. There was a hint of student film to this more than any of the others which shouldn’t be the case on an Amazon Prime budget.
In The Waiting Room Of Estranged Spouses
(Directed by John Crowley, written by Susan Soon He Stanton, starring Garrett Hedlund and Anna Paquin)
Two people whose spouses cheated on them with the other’s meet in a therapist’s office, which sparks a friendship. Could they be more than friends?
An examination of what happens when life doesn’t follow “the plan” and whether there is life after love (Ok Cher). Slightly odd but endearing performances from both Anna Paquin and Garrett Hedlund as the core couple. The imagined combat scenes brought an interesting video game dimension which made it stand out from the others. These are mostly set-ups for a PTSD sub-plot as Hedlund’s character is a veteran, however it's very difficult to convey this complex issue in a 30 minute episode while also creating a believable romance. By trying to tackle both, neither are given much justice.
How Do You Remember Me?
(Written and Directed by Andrew Rannells, starring Marquis Rodriguez and Zane Pais)
Two men pass each other in the street and recall a night they once spent together. However, they both remember it quite differently.
This is an interesting concept from Andrew Rannells that I would love to see expanded upon. How do we remember others and how are we remembered? Once again the constraints of 30 minutes chokes the life from the idea leaving it sanitised and a bit gimmicky.
A Second Embrace, With Hearts and Eyes Open
(Directed by John Carney, written by Kieran Carney, starring Sophie Okonedo and Tobias Menzies)
A divorced couple reignite their romantic relationship and make an attempt at a no-strings attached fling. However, a devastating diagnosis changes everything.
Ending the season with a heavy hitter, this couple are undoubtedly the most likeable protagonists of the season with the most chemistry. This is largely due to the talents of the perpetually underrated Sophie Okonedo and effortlessly charming Tobias Menzies. However, as their connection is so brilliantly believable I struggle to grasp why they broke-up in the first place. With a longer run-time, allowing a comprehensive timeline of their relationship, this story could be a proper summer tear-jerker.