Natalie is unlucky in love.
She’s spent years trying to find the “perfect” guy. And it doesn’t seem like she wants that much: just someone who’s kind, honest and not already married.
Dating apps have not been her friend. Most of the guys she’s found are either really creepy or really rude. Or, worse, they look nothing like their profile pics.
On a positive note, she’s managed to turn her horrible love life into a successful online writing career. She chronicles her bad dates under the pseudonym “Always a Bridesmaid.” And her readers love all the angsty dating drama.
But then Natalie meets Josh.
Josh is everything she wants: sweet, funny, intelligent, single. And as a perk, he’s also very good-looking.
Only problem is, she’s never met him in person, since he lives on the other side of the country. And her editor wants a new story.
So, Natalie takes drastic measures. She’s going to fly across the country to surprise Josh for Christmas. She’ll risk her sanity, her common sense, even her “ability to be on The Bachelor” to prove that the perfect guy does exist. (And she’ll write all about her love story, so her editor won’t fire her.)
If insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, then this might be the most sane thing Natalie’s ever done, despite how crazy it seems.
Unfortunately, Natalie’s plans quickly go awry. Because upon meeting Josh, she realizes she’s been catfished.
Josh used pictures of an old buddy on his profile because he never thought Natalie (or any girl, for that matter) would like him otherwise. And he certainly never thought a girl would travel across the country to catch him in his lie.
Natalie is, understandably, furious. It’s not that Josh isn’t as conventionally attractive as Tag (the guy from the photos), it’s that he lied.
But Josh wants to make it up to her. If Natalie will pretend to be his girlfriend until Christmas to appease his family, he’ll help make Tag fall in love with her.
Not quite the love story Natalie was hoping for, but she’ll take it.
Upon meeting Josh’s family, Natalie immediately understands why he asked her to pretend to be his girlfriend. Though they love Josh and are incredibly kind people, it’s clear that they don’t see Josh as a successful adult. So, seeing him with a sweet and smart girl like Natalie boosts their opinion of him.
Because of this, Natalie really leans into her role as Josh’s girlfriend. She affirms that he has many good qualities and tells him to not let his older brother constantly steal the spotlight. She also encourages his desire to become a candlemaker even though it’s not “manly.” And after the charade is over, she makes him promise to create a real dating profile with pictures of himself instead of Tag.
Josh takes Natalie’s advice and opens up to his dad about starting a candle-making business. His dad is excited, grateful that Josh is finally pursuing his own passion instead of trying to measure up to others’ expectations of what he should be.
Through Josh’s transformation, Natalie realizes that he wasn’t the only person pretending to be someone he’s not. In her own way, Natalie has been so focused on the dishonesty of the guys she was dating that she never stopped to look at her own subtly deceptive ways. While dating Tag, she changes everything about herself to become the girl of his dreams, for example. In the end, she and Josh both apologize for their lies and deceit.
After Josh and Natalie end their charade, Josh’s family offers their sympathies to him—even his older brother, Owen, who had tried to prove that Natalie was a liar. Similarly, Natalie’s boss, Lee, who treated her poorly when he wanted a story, checks to make sure she’s OK.
Elsewhere, a woman says that being bullied during her awkward teenage years taught her about resilience and empathy. When a woman’s face swells up due to an allergic reaction, a man tells her would-be mockers to be respectful of her condition. When Natalie’s fear of heights takes over while rock-climbing, Josh helps soothe her.
Josh comes from a Christian family, and whenever the doorbell rings unexpectedly, his dad shouts, “Is that the Mormons again? Tell them we aren’t converting!”
Josh’s family has a decorative Nativity on their front lawn. Someone wears a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” sweater. Several Christmas carols are about the birth of Christ. Someone else says he doesn’t celebrate Christmas because he believes it’s a scam. We hear that a man fostered a belief in Santa and the Grinch in his grandsons.
A man exclaims, “I am a Christian!” when a woman tries to entice him. Someone says, “speak of the devil.” People talk about “signs” from God.
Natalie says that according to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and two faces. But fearing their power, Zeus split them into two parts, dooming them to forever search for their other half. People mention astrological signs.
Natalie kisses Tag and Josh at different times. We see Natalie in a bath, covered by bubbles. She walks around her home in a sweatshirt and underwear. She and other women wear revealing outfits. Natalie also does a very provocative dance to try to attract Tag. Someone wears a T-shirt imprinted with the image of a pinup girl and the words “I ain’t no Ho Ho Ho.”
While on a date, Natalie nearly kisses a man but is interrupted when his wife and children arrive—whom she didn’t know about. Natalie’s boss is gay. He asks her not to tell HR that he slept with one of their coworkers. He also calls himself her “girlfriend” after they bond.
We see pictures of several shirtless guys on a dating app. Natalie and her friend Kerry objectify a few of them. One man’s profession is “nude yoga instructor.” A man thrusts his hips while Christmas caroling. A guy says he opened a woman’s luggage to look at her underwear.
People talk and joke (often crudely) about having sex, virginity, male genitals and homosexuality. There is a joke about a certain state where cousins can date. Someone says Santa is creepy because he makes people sit on his lap.
While staying with Josh’s family, Natalie makes him sleep on the floor, refusing to share a bed with him even platonically.
Natalie hates the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” because of its sexual-assault implications. She refuses to sing or even listen to it.
Natalie smacks Josh with a lawn ornament.
We hear one use of the f-word and also see it written on a sign preceded by “mother.” Someone calls Natalie and Josh “mofos.” The s-word is used eight times, and we also hear uses of “a–,” “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “d–k” and “h—.” God’s name is abused 25 times (three of which are paired with “d–n” in a song). Christ’s name is abused six times.
Natalie and others drink wine throughout the film. She gets drunk at a bar and often drinks more heavily when she is stressed. She plays a drinking game with Josh. Her friend Kerry shamelessly pours whiskey into her coffee before calling her AA sponsor.
We hear that Josh and one of his friends used to smoke marijuana. Natalie is given a joint of marijuana to pass on to Josh, but she smokes it herself instead. Someone jokes that doing cocaine and running around is cheaper than paying for gas and driving. Someone mentions drug paraphernalia.
Natalie’s boss states that everyone is miserable and adds that people use social media to distract them from their lives and make themselves feel better. He then threatens to fire Natalie if she won’t continue to date bad guys and write stories about them.
When Natalie gets vulnerable about her childhood bullying, a man tactlessly asks if she was a “former chubster.” It’s clear she still has some insecurities since she “monitors” carbs. Josh tells Natalie about the cruel comments kids used to make about his looks. And his brother mocks him for living at home and wearing glasses.
Josh’s brother, Owen, is obnoxious about his need to be the center of attention. His parents clearly favor him, calling him the “Prodigal Son.” There are family photos showing Owen pushing Josh out of frame. He turns the family Christmas caroling into a personal concert. He obsessively Googles Natalie searching for flaws, because he doesn’t like that his family likes her. And whenever the attention veers toward Josh, Owen always tries to one-up him.
During one of these one-up incidents, Josh responds just as immaturely by proposing to Natalie, pressuring her to accept since his whole family is watching. He sadly tells her that his family won’t be crushed when they inevitably “break up” since they’re used to being disappointed by him.
Two people steal several newspapers, putting the delivery boy’s job at risk. Someone says a woman sounds like she has “Millennial Tourette’s.” A man pushes a woman off a climbing wall to scare her (because he knows she’ll be fine since she’s strapped into a harness). A woman says her dad purposely set fires for insurance claims.
Natalie and Josh both learn a valuable lesson about love: It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be honest.
After spending their whole lives being disappointed and heartbroken, they’ve all but given up on love. But they realize the common denominator in all of their failed relationships was themselves. And in order to find love, they needed to stop lying about who they were.
Nobody is truly “perfect.” But that doesn’t mean they can’t be perfect for you. And the only way to know that for sure is to simply and shamelessly be yourself.
It’s a sweet and important message, but unfortunately the rest of Love Hard is plagued by enough foul language and crude talk about sex to make it unwatchable for most.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.