Film & Television

‘Modern Love’:
From The New York Times to Amazon Prime

Although I live in a small New England town now, I am and always will be a New Yorker at heart. Consequently, it drives me mad when movies and television shows are set in my hometown, but shot in Toronto or — even worse — some fake set or sound stage in L.A. It also makes me crazy when they do actually shoot in the Big Apple, but they make all kinds of mistakes. The first time I noticed this, I was 15 and the film was The Goodbye Girl. In the sweet scene when Richard Dreyfuss is convincing Quinn Cummings that he wants to marry her mom (and thereby be her dad), they are sitting in a horse-drawn hansom cab (nice romantic touch), and they’re at about 80th street on Columbus Avenue. Then, suddenly, they’re at 66th street. They’re traveling south. Then, suddenly, they’re traveling north. Columbus Avenue doesn’t even go north!

As you can probably tell, decades later this still disturbs me. A lot.

Of course, there are many New York movies that get it right. You’ve Got Mail, for instance, and When Harry Met Sally, both by determined New Yorker Nora Ephron. On television, Sex and the City was fairly accurate (when they said they were at the Public Library or Chelsea Piers, they really were at the Public Library or Chelsea Piers). Of course, in real life, none of the characters could possibly afford to live in those spacious, light-filled apartments without a roommate. Or a trust fund. But that’s a gripe for a different column.

So it may not surprise you that my biggest issue with the new Amazon series Modern Love is the liberty it takes with the city that never sleeps. Why does a woman who appears to live and work in Manhattan shop at the Fairway up in Pelham (or some other outlying area that has parking lots)? Where are all those tennis courts? Why are there so many cute little parks? And why is an exclusive New York apartment building called the Copley Plaza, a name usually associated with a famous Boston landmark? (All right, I looked that one up and it is indeed a lovely pre-war building in Brooklyn. Mea culpa.)

Modern Love was created (and in most cases, written and directed) by John Carney, the Irishman who brought us 2007’s much acclaimed Once, and more recently Begin Again (2013) and Sing Street (2016). The new series is based on The New York Times column of the same name. Each week, for the past 15 years, the newspaper has published a true personal essay about the ups and downs of contemporary romance. The column has also been anthologized into a book and became a popular podcast four years ago.

The series, available to stream on Amazon, dramatizes eight diverse essays. You can read the Times’s perspective on the project, along with the original stories and some interesting “where are they now?” follow-ups here. However, I suggest you wait until after you’ve watched each 30-minute episode because, suspect NYC locations aside, there is so much to enjoy in each one.

The first episode, “When the Doorman is Your Main Man” (each takes its title from the original published piece), a single woman (just-quirky-enough Cristin Milioti) is unlucky in love, drifting from encounter to encounter. Her only steady relationship is with her building’s disapproving Albanian doorman, Guzmin (Laurentiu Possa). Quick to pass judgment on her dates (his glare is enough to scare any unworthy suitors away), he becomes a trusted father/grandfather figure when she finds she’s alone and pregnant.

The second episode, “When Cupid is a Prying Journalist,” stars endearing Dev Patel as the uber-successful developer of a dating app and the always marvelous Catherine Keener as a reporter who refuses to take his professional answers at face value. Recognizing that he’s still suffering from a lost love, she shares her own story of a significant other who got away, encouraging him to give his thwarted romance one last shot. Their encounter (in a hotel lobby and then one of those cute little parks I mentioned) changes both their lives.

“Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am,” the series’s third episode, is one of the most indelible. Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway shines as a lawyer who spends half her time dancing through life (à la La La Land) and the other half in the depths of despair, hiding beneath her comforter. As a woman who has suffered from bipolar disorder since she was a teen, she struggles to date, much less find a soulmate — even when he appears in the charming form of Gary Carr (Lady Rose’s forbidden jazz singer in Downton Abbey).  

The fourth episode, “Rallying to Keep the Game Alive,” takes a critical look at a more mature relationship. The multitalented Tina Fey  and Mad Men’s John Slattery star as a married couple on the verge of divorce. He’s a popular actor; she feels left out of his life and resentful. They’re in therapy, where they’re encouraged to find a hobby together. Over time, tennis becomes a shared passion — and a metaphor for their life together.


Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.