The Hating Game works when it’s just Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell verbally sparring with each other. Hale and Stowell relish in the nastiness of their insults, glimmers of heat and anger always present.
Thankfully, this repartee makes up a significant portion of the movie! The set design of the office where the pair share desks has an excellent sense of space. You can feel the thrumming sexual tension and resentment in every two-shot of the pair.
Then the movie pivots to being a proper workplace romantic comedy and things fall apart. Hale is up to the task, shifting to tenderness as needed and giving life to the character. Stowell, not so much — he’s mostly a smirking, steely slab, which works fine when his character’s guard is up; less so when we’re supposed to see what’s underneath.
The script is even more troublesome than Stowell’s performance. Although the barbs are often brilliant, the actual romantic arc is a mess. The pulse on characters Lucy and Joshua’s connection fluctuates by the scene, and not in a coherent way. The quippiness goes too far, sometimes, too, like when Lucy, in a warm moment in Joshua’s apartment, starts making sex puns that spoil the sense of affection.
If nothing else, The Hating Game serves as an audition tape for Damon Daunno, playing the friendzoned Danny, to be cast as a lead in a sitcom. He has a weird, lovable energy and affability that is begging to be teased out in 22-minute intervals for seven years.
Romantic comedies, even mediocre ones, can coast on strong chemistry in the leads, and The Hating Game certainly has that in spades. But being watchable is not quite the same as being good, and the movie doesn’t quite breach that barrier.
Nearly Good (4/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.