Nora Ephron makes an unlikely cameo in indie flick The New Romantic, but not in the way you think. Her legacy of fictional, swoon-worthy love is a reference of Blake’s (Jessica Barden), an aspiring journalism student, who finds herself chasing after a “Sleepless in Seattle” romance in the most exasperating of ways.
So naive it’ll make your teeth hurt, Blake is grappling with anxiety over her upcoming college graduation when she chances upon a local ‘sugar baby’ scheme where older men, or ‘sugar daddy’s,’ pay younger women for their company. Under the guise of wanting to get her college newspaper column about love and sex reinstated (canceled by Matt, the paper’s editor-in-chief for bland content), the inexperienced student gets involved with Ian (Timm Sharp), a wealthy author, investor, and certifiable sugar daddy. Her goal? To write about her risque experiences, get her column back and win a $50,000 journalism competition.
Let’s stop right there with the plot synopsis and dive into the analysis (also, frankly, because there’s little else to a meandering story where a girl with a doe-eyed appeal seeks validation via a glossed-over form of prostitution). Particulars are demanding to be addressed.
First and foremost, it’s nearly impossible not to roll your eyes at how impossibly naive the titular character is. Blake and her continuous denial that a paid-for relationship with Ian doesn’t make her a hooker manages to irk the viewer, not compel empathy. As a direct result, her character is unable to grow in the way we would expect for a movie centering on a young woman’s pursuit of meaning. For how can an audience generate compassion and relate to someone who is unwilling to come to terms with her own actions? And why does it read like director Carly Stone is studiously avoiding asking any big questions?