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Love at First Sight

Narrator: “Just to be clear, this isn't a story about love. This is a story about fate. Or statistics. Really, just depends on who you're talking to.”

I’m not usually into rom coms, but I loved this. Warning! Some spoilers!

First, I thought using an overnight flight was perfect. You are stuck with the person beside you for the night, so there’s always the choice: talk or not? Oliver and Hadley were talking before the flight; they had gone out for a meal, so it made sense that they would continue. Then, as you get tired, guards come down. There's a forced but limited sort of intimacy.

The big question after a flight: continue? Or was it a one-flight stand? Confessing your deepest thoughts to a stranger is easy; continuing after is a commitment of sorts. As they are separated before going through immigration – and the strictness about queueing is something I have experienced in the UK – Oliver gives her his phone number but an accident to her phone means Hadley does not actually have the number.

I loved how Oliver was helping, not just Hadley – there’s always an incentive to help a cute girl – but others as well. Not only does he help with bags and things, he distracts her when she’s scared during takeoff (and he really likes holding hands with her).

With her dad’s second marriage, Hadley is going through something, but Oliver is going through much more. He’s got the worst day of his life being combined with what just might be a wonderful event: the excitement and awkwardness and uncertainty of falling in love. It’s simply too much, and it made sense that he would snap at her when she was just trying to be there for him. He apologizes immediately, but before they can straighten things out, they are parted by the pull of separate obligations. Hadley is hurt, so it makes sense that she walks away, while Oliver, who uses rules and obligations and maths to make decisions, lets her, even though you can see he's regretting it.

The two have excellent chemistry, although Ben Hardy is not quite believable as a 22 year old, just as Haley Lu Richardson is really 5’2” and not 5’5” (the 65 inches mentioned in her intro). At least there’s a point where Oliver points out she is five foot nothing.

Title musings. “Love at First Sight” is based on the novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E Smith. I can understand that the people at Netflix might think the title was too long, or that potential viewers might be put off by the math in the title. But the math bits, even when they were wrong, were wonderful. I think they should have kept the original book title.

Bits and pieces

The use of Jameela Jamil as the narrator, in various guises – I especially liked her as the bus driver with the piercings – was brilliant. I also liked her with the Titania hat.

Jameela Jamil is reading William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the movie's beginning. In this play, the mischievous Puck is pouring a potion on sleeping humans so that they will fall in love with the next person they see. We can see our leads - especially Oliver - experiencing love at first sight. So Jameela Jamil is more Puck than Titania.

By the end of the day you would think that both Oliver and especially Hadley would be falling over from exhaustion. But the movie never showed them drinking so much as a cup of coffee or tea.

When Hadley overheard the conversation about the memorial taking place at Peckham House, she should have gone over to the people who were doing the talking. Or asked her new stepmother who they were. On the other hand, what she’s planning is probably something she doesn’t want to share with strangers. As the narrator says, there are really lots of options.

It’s also strange that Oliver didn’t give his speech during the earlier part of the memorial, in fact, so strange that they didn’t even attempt to explain it away. But having him give it when he did allowed the film to show how Hadley influenced him and to have him give the speech he needed to give.

Despite this show featuring lots of the numbers, whoever wrote it didn’t check them for reasonableness. Some numbers are right. The flight from NYC to LHR is about 7 hours, and about 50% of marriages end in divorce. Also, the couple does get separated exactly 18 minutes after the scheduled landing, at 10:13. However, in other places there are real mistakes. Now, it’s quite possible that “Tom” at the wedding would have a different number of years than Oliver with respect to Tessa’s remission (12 years vs 14); I’m sure Oliver’s number is accurate. However, they kept repeating that there were 4 hours, or 240 minutes, between the end of the wedding and the beginning of the reception. The wedding ended before 1 pm – the movie even shows us the clock! - and the reception starts at 6 pm. That’s 5 hours, or 300 minutes. Also, many of the “statistics” are not reasonable. On the other hand, Oliver’s favorite number is i, the imaginary unit, so I guess it’s OK that most of the statistics offered are plain silly, and he does admit to making up some of them.

Although it’s December 21 in London, usually the first day of winter, many of the trees and bushes appear to have a lot of leaves on them. Well, you film when you can.

Also, although it’s December 21 in London, people are not always wearing warm coats.

Note that the first day of winter is the solstice. Midsummer is also a solstice, which may not make sense if you think it should be defined based on how we define summer these days. However, it is the day of most light and least night. Setting this movie exactly half a year away is just another connection to A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Most math nerds – I am one – have a favorite number. Mine is zero.

If you think that the hour and a half until the next flight should have given Oliver and Hadley more time to eat their dinner, you’re wrong. Flights crossing the Atlantic usually start boarding early because there are so many people.

I loved how Andrew Sullivan was already using British versions of words and how his daughter Hadley was correcting him, e.g. trainers versus sneakers.

I have been lost on all the continents (except Antarctica, where I have not been). I really felt Hadley’s anxiety at being lost in an unfamiliar city.

My most recent flight was during a winter storm. The pilot tried to land three times and failed three times; in the end he diverted us to another city. It was terrifying. I did not grab the hands of either person beside me, but considered it. They both said it would have been OK though.

Quotes

Oliver: I think it's working.
Hadley: What, you being charming?
Oliver: No. Me distracting you. It's good to know that you think I'm charming, though.

Hadley: Real love is about finding someone that will hold your hand when life gets rough.
Oliver: And that's it? No wedding, no marriage, just someone to hold your hand through life?
Hadley: Yeah, pretty much.

Oliver: Well, historically, you and your dad were very close, which means the odds are you will eventually forgive him. So you might as well just do it now.

Hadley: I’m breaking all my rules for you.
Oliver: Me too.

Narrator: Fate can only be fate if we decide we want it to be.

Tessa: Well, yes, so what happened was that Val and I were planning my funeral, and it was just turning into such a brilliant show that I realized I wanted to be alive to see it.

Hadley: I was told – I thought – this was a memorial. So, I--
Tessa: You thought I was dead.
Hadley: I'm very glad that you're not.

Oliver: I tried to measure my mum's life in numbers. It's what I do. Mum, you know this about me. It's what I do with everything. It helps me make sense of the world, I guess. The thing is, is that, Tessa Jones is not a number. She's not the plays she acted or the meals she made or the advice she gave – she's my mum.

Andrew Sullivan: Love is a lot of work.

Val: Reception afterwards at the Naval College at 6:00 p.m. There you are. That's great.
Oliver: So you want me to crash a wedding?

Val: If I knew the odds that your mother was gonna get cancer and and die when I fell in love with her, do you know what I would have done differently? Absolutely nothing.

Overall rating

I’m trying to understand why this rom com has stayed with me when other movies do not. I’m sure part of it’s the fact that it takes place on a plane; I have crossed that pond more than 100 times. I also understand the power of instant chemistry – these two couldn’t help smiling around each other – and the actual physical craving to reunite. But what sticks most with me is how these two people supported each other in bad moments and how they actually helped each other make better choices. Three and a half out of four imaginary units.

Victoria Grossack loves math, birds, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.

4 comments:

  1. Victoria, thanks so much for reviewing this movie. I really loved it. I was expecting a by-the-book rom com, and instead, it actually made me cry.

    And I also agree that they should have kept the book title. "Love at First Sight" is such a forgettable title. The word "statistics" should have been in there.

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  2. Just read the book, and I'm coming down much in favor of the movie, which I think had much more to it. This is the second time in a row for me to prefer the movie to the original book.

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    1. I picked up the book too, and I agree -- the movie was better. And that almost never happens.

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    2. When you think about it, the film version of a story should be better than the book. They can start with the original idea of a book and then bring in a whole bunch of fresh minds and build on it, and they can also use visuals and music to enhance the audience experience. In this case they did a great job, especially animating and changing Oliver's story, whose parents were beautiful and wonderful in the movie. And we also got Oliver the math nerd's arc, who is attracted by Hadley from the start - her first sentence to him has the word "date" and a number in it - but who has some insecurities. Hence Oliver mentions Yale early on, while Hadley, brimming with American confidence, has no hesitance in describing her own foibles (dead phone, missing the flight) immediately. He's so sweet that he's irresistible to her, but he keeps not quite getting her phone number.

      The use of Jameela Jamil as fate/cupid - I saw nothing similar in the book. I also hoped the book would be better with the numbers, but it was not. Again, the movie is wonderful with all the numbers being mentioned all the time. I just wish they had used someone to review them for reasonableness.

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