Written by: Heidi Shepler | December 9th, 2021
The Hating Game (Peter Hutchings, 2021) 3½ out of 4 stars.
There has been a curious juxtaposition in recent years when it comes to romantic love in film and television. On the one hand, heroines are often portrayed as being above love relationships, to accentuate their power; think Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel or Rey in Star Wars). Yet on the other hand, our cultural appetite for unironic, fairy-tale romance is keen enough to support an avalanche of Christmas romances every year. It’s no surprise, then, to see stand-alone romance novels get mainstream adaptations, especially in the wake of successful romance series adaptations like Outlander and Bridgerton. Joining this emerging trend is Peter Hutchings’ The Hating Game. It’s a straightforward, in fact sometimes too straightforward, adaption of the massively successful 2016 romance novel by Sally Thorne.
Lucy (Lucy Hale, Son of the South) and Josh (Austin Stowell, Fantasy Island) are coworkers at a publishing company. Despite their obvious sexual tension, they hate each other. Supposedly. Lucy adores literature and decorates her side of their shared office with natural wood and vibrant colors. Josh seems not to love anything besides needling Lucy and decorates his side of the office in varying shades of concrete and chrome. They are ridiculously attracted to each other, and each is ridiculously oblivious that their attraction is reciprocated. The plot is thin, but that’s not a weakness. We as viewers don’t care why Lucy and Josh banter and almost-kiss and then banter again; we’re just here for the ride.
There’s a lot to love about The Hating Game. The sets are beautiful, the cinematography is great, and the chemistry between Hale and Stowell is electric. Where the film struggles, unfortunately, is in its adaptation. In one key scene from both the novel and the film, Lucy and Josh are making out on his bed. She suggests that they have a one-night stand, “just to get it out of their systems.” Josh immediately rejects that idea and instead suggests she go home. In the novel, textual cues make it obvious that he’s upset because he’s in love with her. The film doesn’t do any work to visually contextualize his reaction, so an audience unfamiliar with the book might think that he doesn’t like her after all, or that he’s turned off by her forwardness, or any number of clunky interpretations. Still, these limitations don’t ruin the film. It’s escapist, cathartic, sweet, silly, and hopeful, which is exactly what we sign up for in a romance.