The New Romantic: The Real Meaning Behind Digital Age Dating

Bethany Wilson analyzes Carly Stone's directorial debut.

“A girl should know how pretty she is in order to find her powers.”

Dating in the digital age is hard to navigate and it’s, for the most part, a confusing while eye-opening experience. In a world full of dating apps, from Tinder to Bumble, dating has been made a much easier process for some young adults. For others, though, it can just seem like the easy way out—or the perfect set up for a late-night booty call. In The New Romantic, Blake Conway (Jessica Barden) doesn’t exactly have a positive outlook on dating: “The grandest it gets these days is swiping left instead of right,” she says in the opening scene.

Blake is an aspiring journalist and hopeless romantic who writes a failing anonymous sex column for her college newspaper. When her sex column ‘The Hopeless Romantic’ is shut down due to her articles continuing to fail, her editor Matt (Avan Jogia) shuts it down. Blake continuously struggles with subject material to write about that will not only be true to her personal views but also to keep the interest of the only readers she has left.

The New Romantic (2018) - source: The Orchard

Blake meets Morgan (played by Camila Mendes, who is criminally underused here) after a mix-up at the liquor store causing them to end up with each other’s IDs. Morgan is a sugar baby (a person who is in a transactional relationship for the purpose of achieving economic security). Blake starts to think about how many readers a story of this subject matter could bring to her column. She hesitantly, but also with great passion and determination, becomes a sugar baby herself and uses it for her writing inspiration. Through her new acquaintance, Morgan, Blake is soon introduced to a wealthy older man, Ian (Timm Sharp), who doesn’t date per his personal preference, because he “doesn’t want to spend his time texting or fighting”. She jumps right into this new transactional relationship with Ian without knowing what she’s getting herself into.

Blake slowly but surely becomes hyper-aware of the insane power her sexuality exudes and the authority of using it. Her currency of choice is romance, not gifts, unlike her friend Morgan who accepts payment in handbags or designer clothing. The romance her new man-but-not-her-man can provide to her consists of gifting her a new Vespa to replace her bicycle, a beautiful necklace, and regular week-night and weekend dates/trips, all-time in a chivalrous manner. That’s what we all want, right?

The New Romantic (2018) - source: The Orchard

If Harry met Sally in 2018, they’d just end up as fuck buddies,” Blake says. She is on her own personal journey to find the one and she longs for the kinds of meant-to-be loves brought to life by one of her favorite Nora Ephron screenplays, When Harry Met Sally. So when she meets Ian, there’s something about him that instantly draws her in. Despite the initial professional business vibe of their ‘arrangement’, as naive as she is, Blake starts to question whether or not there is a potential possibility of a real romance with this guy. After they go on a few dates and he treats her exactly how she’s always dreamed, she is convinced that Ian is her knight in shining armor - just like in the movies.

Being a hopeless romantic is definitely one of the most bittersweet qualities to possess. You live your whole life waiting for this unbelievable, sweep-you-off-your-feet romance, like someone saying “Baby, you’re gonna miss that plane,” or “Nobody puts baby in the corner,”. Reality is, as Blake comes to realize, this is rarely the case. Inevitably, Ian comes to find out that she was using him to write stories for her column and everything comes crumbling.

The New Romantic (2018) - source: The Orchard

The New Romantic feels feminine and delicate; the summery, hazy cinematography making it feel even more real with each passing frame. It’s a complex romantic comedy that actually makes an effort to understand and analyze the exhausting and demanding nature of modern-day relationships. From a simple sex column in a college newspaper to a completely stunning self-discovery, Blake finally learns to see how a healthy relationship blossom and sets off on a journey of putting herself first.

I believe in true love more than I believe in much else in this world. I also believe that true love is hard, it hurts, and you have to be patient. I strangely connected with Blake’s story on such a personal level, I understand it and I deeply sympathize with it. The New Romantic is so special and Carly Stone deserves more praise for this stunning directorial debut.

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