‘Love’: Dismantling the Rom-Com
Judd Apatow’s Love delivers a fuller psychological portrait of two of the rom-com’s stock characters – the “nice guy” and the “quirky girl” – and reinvigorates a tired genre in the process.
The Netflix-produced series chronicles the messy relationship between Gus (Paul Rust) and Mickey (Gillian Jacobs). The premise is typical rom-com stuff: a nice guy gets his heart broken, then finds adventure with a free-spirited girl who gives him a chance.
The series acknowledges this worn-out subject matter, and goes at it from a more realistic perspective. On this score, it has more in common with Lena Dunham’s Girls (also produced by Apatow) then it does with, say, 27 Dresses.
Gus (played by co-creator Paul Rust) isn’t the stereotypical “nice guy”. The show delves deeper into his outwardly “nice” behaviour, revealing it for the manipulation it really is. In the first episode, he tells his girlfriend Natalie that he loves her so often and so passive-aggressively that she dumps him, admonishing him with one of 2016’s most brutal TV lines:
“You’re fake nice, which is worse than being an asshole.”
The show’s acerbic humour gets to the heart of the classic “nice guy” trope: Gus’s behaviour stems from a sense of entitlement that nice guys deserve better, but Gus isn’t as nice as he thinks. He helps one of his students cheat to keep his job. He throws a fit when his ideas for a tv series are rejected. He even gets angry when Mickey comes to his work declaring her affection for him, which is something he’s been guilty of many times.
Mickey herself – the rule-breaking girl Gus meets after being dumped – is also more complex than most rom-com heroines. She’s quirky, sure, and wild, the epitome of someone out of Gus’s ‘league’. But the show also presents her as more layered than a genre trope – she’s an addict who uses people, someone unable to be alone for even a moment, as unstable as she is vibrant.
This is testament to the quality of the show’s writing, but it would fall flat without the stellar performance from Gillian Jacobs. She brings with her the comedic chops she’s delivered time and again on Community, but adds some sadness to the character, too.
The series plays out like a serialized version of an Apatow film like This is 40 or Knocked Up. It charts Gus and Mickey’s respective arcs as they battle their own unique screwed-upness. In doing so, it offers a view of dating that’s a little wiser and a little gloomier, but no less heartfelt than the rom-coms it takes shots at.
Maybe one line uttered in anger by Gus sums this up best: “Nobody just pulls you aside and tells you relationships are fucking bullshit.”
Love is Judd Apatow’s way of doing just that.