(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Series: Starstruck
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: Jessie (writer and series creator Rose Matafeo) is your typical millennial who lives in East London: she’s flat broke and living in an overpriced apartment with her best friend, while juggling two jobs she doesn’t much care for. But when she discovers that a New Year’s Eve hook-up, Tom (Nikesh Patel), is actually a famous movie star, her life dramatically changes. Kind of.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: “The rom-com is dead…except on TV” is something that a lot of people have been repeating for the past couple years. But it’s still true. The good, smart romantic-comedy has been absent from our big screens for years, but there’s no shortage of them on the small screen — everything from Never Have I Ever to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to Fleabag, and everything in between, have been filling the gaps on the kind of heart-fluttering romance that movies like When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle used to provide us. And like the best TV rom-coms, Starstruck takes a familiar formula — specifically, the Notting Hill plot of ordinary person falls in love with famous movie star — and remixes it for a new generation, with a little more screwball comedy and a few spikier edges thrown in.
Not to be confused with the Disney Channel TV movie of the same name (which for some reason, still dominates the Google image search), Starstruck is the creation of comedian Rose Matafeo, who offers the kind of brash, ballsy, sex-positive persona that has become common among female stand-up comedians these days, but which still feel refreshing in a straightforward romantic-comedy like this. You see, feature film romantic-comedies still ascribe to the “likability” factor — your rom-com heroine might be a little hapless, and maybe is prone to getting in scrapes, but she’s still, ultimately, a charming ideal who you could ultimately see wooing someone like Hugh Grant at his floppy-haired peak.
But female heroines have evolved on TV. They’re allowed to be grossly unlikable like in Broad City, or even destructive like in Fleabag, and more frequently, they’re allowed to be all those things and romantic. And Starstruck picks up on that, with Matafeo’s Jessie, who by all accounts is not the kind of girl who would have a movie star falling love with her — her life is a mess, mostly thanks to her own flagrant behavior around her friends, flings, and coworkers — but Patel’s incredibly charming Tom does. After a drunken hook-up at a club on New Year’s Eve, Jessie and her absolute disdain for his acting career (which she does not at first realize is actually successful) charms Tom, and their awkward, sloppy meet-cute transforms into the shy beginnings of something more. But misunderstandings form, and they part ways, only to have several more chance encounters throughout the year, each a little more bittersweet than the last.
Starstruck is a total gem of a series, a romantic-comedy that lightly leaps between crass cringe comedy to melancholic dramedy. It’s a little bit screwball and a little bit escapist, but it’s the core performances by Matafeo and Patel that keep the whole thing grounded. Despite playing much more flawed and messy characters than those Grant and Julia Roberts embodied in Notting Hill, Matafeo and Patel manage to tap into the larger-than-life charisma of the Hollywood heartthrobs and give us a swooning romance that feels as fresh as it did two decades ago.
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