‘Love at First Sight’ review: Haley Lu Richardson anchors this sappy, sweet rom-com
Those already fans of Jennifer E. Smith’s book will need no prompting to root for this couple (Haley Lu Richardson and Ben Hardy) who meet cute at John F. Kennedy Airport on December 20.
The last time we saw Haley Lu Richardson — at least, the “White Lotus” version of Haley Lu Richardson — her Portia was in an airport, leaving the murderous mayhem of Sicily (and one dead boss) behind and exchanging contacts on her phone with nice young Albie.
Now, in an amusing bit of symmetry, we rejoin the charming Richardson at an airport again in “Love at First Sight” — with another young man, this time trying but failing to get his contact info into her phone. (Spoiler alert: one really needs to keep one’s phone charged when looking for love.)
It's this theme of missed connections — and fate, and inadequately charged iPhones — that anchors the plot of this sweet, often moving but also painfully corny rom-com that survives on the appeal of Richardson and also her co-star, Ben Hardy, a couple that could triumph over anyone’s saccharine dialogue.
The Netflix film, directed by Vanessa Caswill, is based on the popular YA novel “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight” — a more interesting title, but one can understand the desire to avoid anything that could potentially be shortened in conversation to “Statistical Probability” (likely the least romantic title in the history of rom-coms).
In any case, those already fans of Jennifer E. Smith’s book will need no prompting to root for this couple who meet cute at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport on December 20, which the film’s narrator tells us is the airport's busiest day of the year (the narration is full of such factoids). On this day, we learn, Hadley Ella Sullivan, American, age 20 and 65 inches tall, is traveling to London but misses her flight by four minutes.
And those four minutes will change everything, because waiting in the airport lounge is one Oliver Jones, age 22, a Brit studying statistics at at Yale, whose average phone battery life is 94 % (compared to Hadley’s, which is 21 % — also the percentage of times she is late.)
The two meet when Oliver (“As in Twist?” says Hadley – see what we mean by corny?) offers his phone charger. Then they head to dinner, at which point they realize that they share a hatred for mayonnaise. We also learn that Hadley is heading to London for her father’s wedding to the woman he left her mom for.
As for Oliver, he indicates he's also traveling to a wedding, but he’s actually traveling to something a lot sadder. The two end up sitting together on the plane, through yet another twist of fate, but maybe also because the flight attendant who seats them is the very same narrator (Jameela Jamil) who pops up throughout in different roles, sort of a hip fairy godmother.
In any case, the two talk all night, but get separated in the customs line the next morning. Before running off, Oliver gives Hadley his number, but it doesn’t make it into her phone before she loses juice, yet again.
If you’re like me, you might recall here Jesse and Celine, aka Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who also fell in love, overnight, while traveling, in “Before Sunrise” and agreed to meet at the same place in six months. Celine couldn’t make it, and poor Jesse, with no phone number, had to wait nine years and write a best-selling novel in a bid to find her.
This was before social media. Now, as our narrator acknowledges, there are so many ways to find someone: Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter (or X). But even with those helpful tools, you need to know the person’s last name. Somehow, Hadley and Oliver don’t.
And then, through an ingenious, yep, twist of fate again, they find each other. And then, annoyingly, they lose each other again! Still with no name and no number! Really?!
The supporting cast features a few lovely performances, namely the very moving Sally Phillips and Dexter Fletcher as Oliver’s parents, a pair of Shakespeare-loving thespians struck by tragedy. As Hadley’s father, Rob Delaney is saddled with some of the sappier lines in the script as he tries to explain his divorce to his daughter with piercing thoughts like “Love is a lot of work.”
Richardson, throughout, gives an empathetic and endearing performance, and Hardy matches her for charm, even if he doesn’t convince as a self-described “maths nerd.” Both are playing college students about a decade younger, but we’ll suspend the disbelief, because darnit, we want to see these kids get together!
We won’t give the end away, but we can tell you — because the narrator told us — that 17.6 % of people walk away from the loves of their life.
Does that mean that 82.4 % walk in the opposite direction, toward love? More importantly, what percentage of sappy rom-coms end in romantic failure? The odds seem pretty good for Hadley and Oliver.
“Love at First Sight" rating: Two stars out of four.