TV Reviews

Anna Kendrick’s “Love Life”: an engaging and viscerally relatable star vehicle

“Love Life” follows Anna Kendrick as Darcy Carter through her love life, charting high school sweethearts to The Person in a massively heart warming journey.


Starring Anna Kendrick, Zoë Chao, Sasha Compère, and Peter Vack


Anna Kendrick has been nominated for an Oscar. That’s sometimes tricky to remember, due to her rocketing to fame through the Pitch Perfect films. Even though Kendrick crops up all over the shop, from her random, high school bitch role in the Twilight saga, to musical turns in all three Pitch Perfects, The Last Five Years and Into the Woods, lending her voice to Poppy in Trolls, to flexing her comedic muscles in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and A Simple Favor, she is bizarrely underrated. Steadily employed since her Academy Award nomination for Up in the Air in 2009, Kendrick is clearly impressive enough to be continually cast, yet she rarely gets the acclaim that she sorely deserves.

Kendrick’s performance is the central draw to the appeal of HBO Max’s first streaming project “Love Life”, and truly demonstrates her broad range and incredible likability. If there was any doubt to her supreme talent, she more than proves that she deserves the recognition and accolades that such skill warrants.

“Love Life” chronicles the exploits of Darby Carter, a slightly socially inept 20-something when we first meet her, as she starts to navigate the emotional quagmire that is romantic love. We see Darby through her childhood flings, to long-lasting, meaningful relationships (she even falls in love a couple of times along the way) before, finally, alighting upon her final person.

Throughout, we see Darby undergo significant personal transformation, as she becomes more at home and comfortable with herself, as well as taking stock and examining her relationships with those around her – not just her romantic partners, but also her friends and her family.

It is here that Kendrick really shines. Following a character’s journey over the course of multiple years is a brilliant opportunity for any actor, and it allows Kendrick to truly demonstrate subtle developments within Darby’s character, as she ages and as she experiences life. While the growth that Darby goes through may not be made massively explicit by the programme, that does not erase the significant differences between her demeanour at the beginning of the series and at the close of the 10-episode run.

We journey with Darby as she first falls head over heels for a boy at a party, waiting anxiously by the phone for him to text her; entering into an ill-advised relationship with her ex-boss, who is going through a somewhat messy divorce; being trapped in a relationship in which there is a total breakdown of communication. Throughout this, we see as Darby metamorphoses. While she uses alcohol as a way to cope with her emotions at an especially awkward funeral, overwhelmed with insecurity, we soon find Darby finding her steely dignity in quiet, understated, assured moments behind closed doors. The public, angsty aspects of her persona are replaced with a more settled, unassuming character, with an unspoken sense of internal confidence.

It’s also remarkable how much we see Darby shift and change within her relationships. Throughout the series, we see which parts of her personality are capable of change, and which are immutable. We see the ways that she subdues herself and censors herself in her relationships with different people, and the other ways that she allows herself to breathe and expand into those boundaries, until she just seems to effortlessly fit within her own skin. It’s almost indescribable the way that it is portrayed, but there’s a complexity and a tremendous subtlety to the physicality of Kendrick’s performance throughout.

Ultimately, it’s these subtle changes within Darby that persuade the viewer to keep watching. You want to see Darby succeed, not just romantically, but also personally. You want to see her overcome the demons that have plagued her since her formative relationships and become the version of herself that she is capable of. You want to see her achieve her professional dreams as well, even though much of the early episodes are characterised by the all-too-familiar aimless wandering and soul searching that a human being tends to conduct in their twenties. The fact that we, as the audience, root for Darby – made all the easier, of course, by Kendrick’s winning portrayal – makes this series so delightful to consume.

Not only is the performance simply divine in terms of character development, but the entire series has a kind of easy, realistic dialogue that all the performers make look so effortless, almost as if there wasn’t a script at all. The lines seem to ebb and flow, the timing just perfect in that way that ordinary people come together and separate in a dance of conversation. It appears so natural to watch that you really believe in the relationships and connections between the characters, which is essential when there are significant time gaps in between the episodes and not very much time to cement the legitimacy of the characters’ connections. Kendrick, of course, has effervescent chemistry with all of them, her dry sense of humour making for wonderful moments that are pitched just right, and her interactions with each of her romantic partners is always credible, but palpably different each time.

A massive part of the appeal of “Love Life” lies in the innate hopeless romantic lurking inside what must be a huge part of the population. Love is such a universal concept, and there’s a tremendous draw to watching somebody else’s romantic roadmap as if it is a book. Having that idea of “this is where the end starts” is more an opportunity to look inward at one’s own life and significant relationships. After all, as demonstrated throughout the series, finding The Person is more like effortlessly slipping into a hot bath and much less the ceremony that one imagines that it will be. Like a fuzzy blanket appearing unexpectedly out of the blue and settling around your shoulders, an invisible companion that just never leaves you afterwards. For those of us fortunate enough, the last relationship is simple, and easy. You look around one day and think, “How did I get here?”, “Did I know back then that this person would be so important to me?”. Like some sort of sneak attack, you are contented, and you can’t even remember how it felt to be anything else. Somebody walks into your life, and they simply choose to stay. Seeing it play out in televised form allows a romanticised gleam about one’s own existence; a true moment of mindful appreciation for the story that is each of our lives, and an opportunity to consider just how you’ll think of it differently when you look back upon it. How lovely love is.

Love Life is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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