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film review

Lily Collins and Sam Claflin star in the pre-Valentine’s Day romantic comedy

The task of the rom-com isn't an enviable one. The genre has to evoke what the greatest poets and artists have struggled to express since humans began to walk upright – love – and on top of this be funny. In the face of such a Sisyphean ordeal, it's no wonder so many rom-coms crumble under the pressure. In the case of Christian Ditter's Love, Rosie, the pre-Valentine's Day release manages to rise to its uphill challenge for a time, thanks to the charm of its leads and an occasionally subversive screenplay.

Love, Rosie begins with the titular lead (played by the impressively eyebrowed Lily Collins) sobbing at a wedding. Flashback 12 years when the course of true love started going awry: On her 18th birthday, after several shots and lost in the rhythm of Beyonce's Crazy in Love, Rosie kisses her best friend, Alex (Sam Claflin, best known for his shirtless performance in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire). The next day, Rosie tells Alex she doesn't remember anything about the night, least of all locking lips. So Alex, who relished the moment, bottles up his feelings for his friend. The pair then spend the next decade-plus trying to tell each other how they really feel, only to be thwarted time and again by pesky circumstances like pregnancies, supermodel spouses and misplaced love letters.

These plights are overly dramatic, but in the early stages of Rosie and Alex's non-romance it all makes some sense in the context of immature youth, a state that Collins and Claflin capture perfectly. Both in their mid-20s, the emerging British stars pass for fresh-faced high schoolers (albeit impossibly beautiful ones), and the two also nail the nervous, giddy exuberance of young love.

Within the confines of this rather straightforward love story, screenwriter Juliette Towhidi (Calendar Girls) subverts what she can, and weaves in topics such as teen sex, abortion and some golden one-liners. ("A woman's body doesn't become public property because she's pregnant.") Crucially, Towhidi also doesn't reduce Rosie to a typical rom-com lead. While driven to find love (a human enough desire, after all), Rosie breaks the mould being a single working-class mother with good friends and an active sex life.

Love, Rosie's early charm fades by the end, given that, as time (and the movie) wears on, neither Rosie nor Alex get any more mature when it comes to matters of the heart. Perhaps none of us do, but without the excuse of adolescence, these star-crossed lovers are no longer cute and, more irritatingly, they're stuck in the past. By the time Rosie and Alex get together, the sigh of relief that follows isn't because love finally finds a way, but rather that, unlike for Sisyphus, the mounting frustration can come to an end.