One of the most potent plot devices in the romance genre is the enemies-to-lovers trope. It has resulted in many hits like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘10 Things I Hate About You’. Netflix itself has greatly benefited from it through the relationships portrayed in its TV shows like ‘Bridgerton’, ‘Never Have I Ever’ and ‘Sex Education’. The thing about these movies and shows is that the trope works extremely well because of the convincing characters and enough common ground for them to set aside their differences and fall in love. ‘Purple Hearts’, on the other hand, never quite hits that mark.
The Netflix film begins with an aspiring singer-songwriter trying to keep her financial troubles at bay by working multiple jobs. Things get worse when she runs out of medication for Type I diabetes, which she discovered she has only six months ago. The broken healthcare system of the country makes her desperate to come up with some other solution, even if illegal. When she crosses paths with Luke, a young Marine who is ready to be deployed on his first tour, she immediately dislikes him, though it has more to do with her preconceived notion of soldiers and the fact that Luke’s companions are outright misogynists.
Personally as well Luke fails to make a mark on Cassie, but when she discovers that marrying him could get her the health benefits she desperately needs to stay alive, she thinks practically and decides to wed him. For Luke, too, this arrangement works out well, because it allows him additional monetary benefits for taking care of the debt he still owes to his ex-drug dealer.
On the surface, the plot looks like an excellent recipe for some strong conflict between the protagonists who slowly fall in love. But as the story unfolds, the entire thing starts to fall apart. The thing that hurts the film the most is its characters. The initial awkwardness between them as they get married and pretend to be in love helps to set the stage. We can clearly see that both of them are uncomfortable around each other, and that’s understandable because they don’t really like each other in the first place. It was expected that they’d slowly find a way around that. Instead, they launch headfirst into a passionate moment that fizzles out as soon as the sun comes up. And that continues for the rest of the film.
The love story that we are supposed to root for never really gets the space to flourish amidst all the chaos in the lives of Cassie and Luke. Even as they are supposed to get closer, that awkwardness between them doesn’t disappear. This is due to the lack of chemistry between the actors, who are otherwise alright on their own. Individually, Cassie and Luke make sense, but when they come together, it feels unrealistic that they could keep up the sham for as long as they do in the film. Moreover, we don’t see anything in their relationship that would allow them to evolve from being enemies to lovers.
The strength of character that starts a conflict and then makes people like Mr. Darcy and Liz Bennet or Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma realize that they are actually quite similar never surfaces for Cassie and Luke. While Cassie is a rather formidable heroine, Luke never quite matches up to her bravado. They do start to care for each other, but it still doesn’t make for a convincing marriage, which makes one wonder how long it’d last even if they were together for real. The lack of that inherent spark convinces us that they might have been better off as just friends.
Apart from never clicking with each other, the characters also fizzle out on the ideologies that they hold dear at the beginning. Cassie, especially, seems to throw away her anti-war and anti-every other thing that Luke and his fellow soldiers seem to thump their chests about. She goes from the policy of not dating military guys to writing a heartfelt song about the heroes away from home. It would have been more convincing had the film given her a chance to evolve to that point, but much like everything else, it seems to rush towards uncooked scenarios. Similarly, all the moral and political tussles between Cassie and Luke simply disappear when they get married. For all the relevant issues that the film tries to focus on, it never succeeds in moving beyond the superficiality of its endeavor.
The only thing that might actually get you excited is when Cassie’s band is booked to open for Florence+The Machine. The thought of seeing Florence Welch and hearing her sing almost makes you forget all the eye-rolling and exhausting sighs while watching the film. But even on that front, one meets nothing but disappointment.
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