Based on the novel of the same name by Sally Thorne, The Hating Game is a mildly raunchy and barb-filled romcom directed by Peter Hutchings (Then Came You, The Outcasts) and starring Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell as workplace enemies Josh and Lucy, who go toe-to-toe for the same promotion, only to find that the lines between love and hate are very fine indeed.
Both executive assistants to publishing company CEOs, Josh and Lucy’s lives collided when their companies merge. Uptight and regimented Josh clearly loves routine and order, while Lucy is upbeat, friendly, and prone to mess. On the surface, they couldn’t be more different and everyone around them knows it, with the head of HR even commenting that most of the staff complaints are about their bickering. When they fight, they really fight and it’s honestly a wonder neither of them has been fired for workplace misconduct. But at the core of their arguments is a shared drive and love for what they do and, perhaps to a degree, a modicum of respect for each other.
Now from the outside it’s also pretty clear that there’s something bubbling under the surface for these two. Despite Lucy describing him as ‘American Psycho’ playing a copycat with her to piss her off, it does look like the adult equivalent of a schoolboy pulling a girl’s pigtails. However, when Josh and Lucy go up for the same promotion, the gloves come off and it becomes a battle of psychological warfare. Things get complicated fast when Josh makes an appearance in Lucy’s dreams, and she starts to question whether her hatred towards him has always been genuine or undercut by lust this whole time. Josh, sensing that their dynamic is shifting, allows himself to be vulnerable for a moment and before they know it, they’re kissing in the elevator. From that moment it’s a fast escalation as they go from fighting to nearly fucking over and over.
The enemies-to-lovers trope has been seen as far back as Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and likely further, but the one thing it’ll never be is outdated or overdone. There’s something so satisfying about seeing people who outwardly hate each other only to realise that they’re actually perfect for each other, and The Hating Game definitely scratches that itch. Hale and Stowell, having both worked together on 2020’s Fantasy Island, are clearly comfortable together and the chemistry during their more physical scenes is very visible.
Honestly, if it weren’t for these two in the lead, this movie would fall incredibly flat. The supporting cast are all varying shades of poorly written, especially the vocally misogynistic Bexley Books CEO and the bumbling co-worker Danny, whose crush on Lucy is embarrassingly obvious. But most of that is easy to put aside, as you watch the leads do their thing. There are places where the script feels a little clunky and corny, but it’s a safe assumption that anyone coming to see this movie isn’t looking for moving dialogue.
While some might look at Josh and Lucy’s behaviour towards each other as questionable, perhaps even manipulative or abusive, anyone willing to take their critical thinking cap off for 90 minutes will be able to enjoy watching the pair play cat and mouse with each other.
The Hating Game isn’t trying to be anything other than a cheesy romantic comedy and that’s really okay! After the surplus of Oscar bait and auteurist films in recent years, a silly romance movie like The Hating Game is a breath of fresh air.