The New Romantic


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tne New Romantic
"Carly Stone, a first time feature director, sometimes seems as uncertain as her protagonist, but the muddled way scenes are assembled complements the central theme."

It's important for a woman to know how pretty she is, Morgan (Camila Mendes) tells Blake (Jessica Barden), because that's where her powers come from. What powers? Power isn't really something that Blake has concerned herself with. She's stumbling through college a if she were still in high school, not thinking much about the long term - but when she sets her sights on winning a prestigious student journalism award, she realises that she needs to start taking control of her life.

Blake isn't so much pretty as young-looking - at 20 she could easily pass for 13. This is, of coure, a tradeable asset in itself, and she attracts plenty of male attention. Morgan advises her that she could do very well out of it. Why date guys her own age when she could become a sugar baby, dating an older man who will shower her with expensive gifts? Romance is dead anyway, Blake concludes, since her life hasn't worked out like the Nora Ephron romcoms she loves. But the clincher comes when she realises she could write about such an experience to get that award. So she hooks up with fortyish academic Ian (Timm Sharp) and finds herself beguiled by what is, as she soon realises, a very traditional form of relationship.

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Why do people object so much to the idea of transactional relationships? Blake wonders. They were the norm in most human cultures for thousands of years. She enjoys the attention that Ian pays to her and becomes comfortable with him to a degree that means sex is pleasant enough. Yet rather like a tamer version of 2012's Six Acts, The New Romantic positions a young woman taking control of her sexuality not as problematic in itself but as dangerous in the context of a world full of hostile men who, given an inch, will take a mile. An encounter with a pushy friend of Ian's who assumes anyone can buy her services profoundly unsettles Blake. Her natural sentimentality promises a hard landing when she eventually realises that Ian's gifts don't betoken any actual interest in her as a person, nor any sympathy should she struggle to put on a professional smile.

Blake is a curiously sexless protagonist; she and roommate Nikki (Hayley Law) talk about one night stands as if they happen by accident rather than as a consequence of mutual desire. All she really seems to want is romance. The sting is taken out of the tale by the fact that she doesn't really need anything - for all the talk about student debts, we see no signs of financial struggle, and she clearly has plenty of options in life even if she doesn't win the prize, so not much s really depending on the success of her experiment, nor is she under any meaningful pressure to continue it. Barden, however, is a good enough actress to keep us caring about her character despite this. Blake's naivety makes her vulnerable but also funny and sometimes charming. If she's underdeveloped as a character it's because she's underdeveloped as a person, but this just serves to highlight the importance of her having space to get to know herself at this key stage in her life.

Carly Stone, a first time feature director, sometimes seems as uncertain as her protagonist, but the muddled way scenes are assembled complements the central theme. If anything, the film's weakest moments come when it tries to be conventionally witty, especially towards the end. At its best, it's a sweet coming of age story with some keen observations to make about the way women's value is measured and female sexuality perceived.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2018
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A student becomes a sugar baby, documenting her experience in the hope of winning a journalism prize.

Director: Carly Stone

Writer: Kyle Mann, Carly Stone

Starring: Jessica Barden, Timm Sharp, Hayley Law, Brett Dier, Camila Mendes

Year: 2018

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: Canada


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