"The New Romantic" critiques itself. This happens through Jessica Barden, who plays Blake, a college student who writes a sex column for the school's newspaper. On noticing the work is getting no hits, her editor decides to kill the column. Despite being a sex column, there's no sex.
The film faces the same problem, as the script from first-time director/writer Carly Stone comes across as if the Disney Channel decided to do a movie on what happens when a young woman gets a sugar daddy. If you aren't familiar with the term, this is someone who as part of the relationship gives their partner gifts ranging from trips to the cost of tuition. There's some playful moments in the film regarding such a scenario, but Stone never addresses serious issues, like what it means physically and emotionally for a young woman to sell herself.
The onslaught of Nora Ephron references and testimonies establish Stone wants to look at the emotional rather than the physical. It's just impossible to get a sense of romance when Blake shows no connection to the older man in her life except to sign for the gifts he sends her.
Stone tries to establish why Blake would make a leap into the world of sugar daddy relationships through efforts to save the failing column. She knows the only real way to succeed as a gonzo journalist is to live a life worth living. That opportunity comes through a complete stranger, Morgan (Camila Mendes), who is living the good life because of her own sugar daddy. Her recruitment speech makes the relationship sound like signing up for a gym membership where there's little chance of anyone getting hurt.
Eventually the relationship for Blake begins to crack, but instead of showing any dire consequences, the attempt to find romance shifts to a fellow reporter who has feelings for Blake. Even that connection has as much energy as a dead battery.
The best thing about "The New Romance" is Mendes, who makes an interesting shift from the conniving, spoiled character she plays in "Riverdale." At least it is possible to see in her eyes that she realizes no matter how much anyone wants to debate that taking gifts for sex isn't a form of prostitution, the line is microscopically thin. Don't get too connected, because Stone shows her weakness as a novice writer by just unceremoniously dropping the character. Coming in second among the roles is Hayley Law's performance as Nikki, Blake's energetic roommate.
"The New Romantic" might have worked if either Stone had embraced the obvious passion she has for Ephron and created a romantic comedy set around a group of college students. Or, she should have pushed the boundaries and taken a very serious look at what this kind of contract means in the era of men beginning to be held accountable for the sexual liberties they take with women. Just because Blake says yes doesn't make the sex for gifts element right.
Stone's failings at each turn come together to make it that there is no reason to fall in love with "The New Romantic."
'THE NEW ROMANTIC'
Cast: Jessica Barden, Hayley Law, Brett Dier, Camila Mendes, Timm Sharp.
Director: Carly Stone.
Rated: NR but contains language, sexual content, brief nudity.
Running time: 82 minutes.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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