REVIEW: ‘Masters of Love’ (2020) Approaches Romance With a Refreshing Sense of Vulnerability

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“’Masters of Love’ provides a particularly empathetic look into the lives of three fully-fleshed out characters.”

Thanks to Hollywood tradition, rom-coms have long been defined by their clichés. Lighthearted and earnest, they often tell the story of a quirky character who, despite confronting a few twists and turns along the way, will find their fairy tale ending just waiting to be claimed. Although at its core, Masters of Love is a romantic comedy, filmmaker Matt Roberts takes a different approach to the genre, providing a candid look at love in the 21st Century.

Far from a sweeping tale of grand romance, Masters of Love provides an intimate look at three characters, equally uncertain about where their romantic lives have led them. The film’s greatest achievement is painting a portrait of people whose struggles go beyond their dating lives, expanding into their careers and even personalities. Their conflicts, flaws and desires are interwoven in ways that they aren’t always capable of seeing for themselves. 

Soon-to-be-married Emmy (Sarah Ovens) believes she isn’t ready to grow up. Despite her effortlessly organized fiancée, Samantha (Eleanor Fanyinka), planning the perfect wedding, her life feels far from settled. She struggles to find her place in a job where her opinions are shut down, while her fear of disappearing into married life bubbles to the surface. Yet, according to her brother Josh (Owen Roberts), she lives a “fairy tale life” not worth complaining about. 

Josh faces rejection on all fronts, as his long-term relationship crumbles while his attempts to grow his food vlog are constantly dismissed. He soon finds himself on the couch of mutual friend, Niall (Ciaràn Dowd), a struggling comedian whose opening bit riffs on how impossible maintaining a relationship is. As Niall unhappily sleeps around, Josh mourns his relationship and Emmy wrestles with her future; all the while, the viewer is left to endure their every misstep, unable to do anything but hope for the best.

Niall, Josh and Emmy stand in the alleyway of a bar. Josh tilts his head back, drinking a beer while Emmy speaks to Niall.
Courtesy of Signature Entertainment

Though the plot unravels slowly, the progression of events is never the point. The characters are easily the heart of the film. Despite the awkward and uncomfortable situations they find themselves in, it’s difficult not to root for their success. Sarah Oven as Emmy is a particular highlight, her swarm of emotions intense and her relationship with Samantha endearingly sweet, even after the cracks begin to show. Their relationship is not only the most dynamic, but also the most fleshed out. Even so, Roberts and Dowd shape their characters into fully formed people, whose plights quickly elicit sympathy. Niall’s despondency and pessimism are deftly balanced alongside his wry sense of humor, while Josh’s vlogs stand out not for their comedic value, but for the insight they provide into his shaky emotional state. 

The film’s comedy is rarely overt, but emerges in moments of honesty, peeking out in the timing and delivery. Though there are interactions that feel undeniably scripted, the interactions between the core group of characters feel warm and familiar.

On the surface, Masters of Love is nothing viewers haven’t seen before: it’s an interwoven romantic tale of people who must ultimately confront their own fears and flaws if they ever expect to have a chance at happiness. But towards its ending, a character puts into words exactly what sets the film apart. 

“The ones who think it’s a fairy tale—they’re the ones that don’t last.” 

Masters of Love approaches romance with a refreshing sense of vulnerability, honesty and empathy. It creates characters whose self-destructive actions are frustratingly familiar and moments of pain unflinchingly real. Observant and bittersweet, the film provides a look into the lives of three people—into all the cracks of their relationships and the crevices of their character. At its core, Masters of Love understands that relationships are complex and never without struggle, but the possibility of something real makes it worth the pain.

Director: Matt Roberts
Producers: Matt Roberts, Mark Waites
Cast: Ciaràn Dowd, Sarah Ovens, Owen Roberts, Eleanor Fanyinka
Release Date: July 13, 2020