Love stories are hard to get right. There’s a very specific balance you have to teeter on between being overly sentimental/cheesy (e.g. The Notebook) and trying to avoid too much cheese by making it the B-story (e.g. Gross Pointe Blank). Throughout the years there have been a few that have really made it work. Films like True Romance and The Handmaiden are examples of movies that find that perfect blend of romance, off-beat story telling and characters that are completely enthralling. Films like these and the Netflix Original series The End of the F***ing World craft such compelling love stories because – more often than not – you don’t even realize you’re watching one until you’re already invested. They strip away the artifice of the genre and then slowly layer it back in so that the emotion feels more organic and raw.
Also, it’s really fucking funny.
Synopsis: “James is a 17-year-old who believes he is a psychopath, regularly killing animals as a hobby but has become bored of it. After acquainting himself with Alyssa, a 17-year-old rebellious fellow schoolmate, he decides to murder her, but then actually falls in love with her, while they both embark on a road trip.”
Clocking in at a total run time of two hours, this show could be viewed as a movie or a series. That’s part of the flexibility/appeal of having an outlet like Netflix to watch this on as it allows the viewer to decide whether or not they want to put some space between chapters or just forge ahead. However, it does work best as a series of chapters in a larger story as opposed to one fluid narrative as each episode brings the two main characters into contact with someone new each episode (ultimately shaping their relationship and their outlook on life).
Both of the lead characters have an abrasiveness to them that pokes you in the chest, flips you the bird and tells you to fuck off in a way that you cannot help but be charmed by. Alyssa (portrayed by Jessica Barden – best known from Hanna and The Lobster) whose give-no-fucks-but-secretly-gives-lots-of-fucks aggression is laced with a timid humanity that comes out in her narration. The contrast of her confident, ballsy, outwards demeanor with her self-loathing, unsure, sad inner dialogue peels back the hate to reveal the heart of the film. This is exemplified during a scene where the two are checking into a hotel and asks for a room with one bed. When the hotel managers questions this, Alyssa smarmily informs her that she’ll need “a double room with a double bed for double sex” then looks over at James and solemnly thinks to herself “I really need to cry.”
Alex Lawther as James is the inverse of Alyssa’s angst. Outwardly he comes across as an affable, polite (if a bit unconventional and antisocial) young man who doesn’t fit in with the crowd – so Alyssa is immediately drawn towards him. On the inside he’s convinced himself he’s basically a psychopathic murderer who feels nothing and thinks Alyssa might be a good first human victim for him. As his journey with Alyssa takes him to new places (both emotionally and physically) he begins to see that emotional side of him that he thought died off long ago might actually have some life to it still.
That’s a big part of what makes the story work so well. Usually in romantic stories, characters end up finding fulfillment in each other, but with TEOTFW the characters don’t just fall in love and are magically fixed of all their problems. In fact, there are various times throughout the series where you’re not even sure if they are in love or if they’re just two fucked up kids who find being fucked up together is better than being fucked up alone. After all – that’s not too far of from love in the really, real world. What TEOTFW gets so right that other romance films get so wrong is that these characters go on a journey together and find solace/resolution/fulfillment with each other, not in each other. It’s a fine line, but one that separates stories like this and its more artificially sentimental peers.
The show’s directorial duties were split between Jonathan Entwistle & Lucy Tcherniak with Entwistle handing off to Tcherniak at the midway point in the series. It is a pretty seamless transition that really feels like a single coherent piece. Along with getting some amazing performances from the actors, the amount of gorgeous shots they were able to nail down was very impressive. Whether it be the kids walking through a forest at dusk, dancing wildly in a 70’s inspired house or making a phone call in the world’s most isolated phonebooth, this show is filled to the brim with the kind of cinema-quality shots Netflix users have become used to with their original shows.
TEOTFW is a Bonnie & Clyde story that takes crime, nihilism, grief and longing on a road trip through the bizarre. And, yes somewhere amidst murdering a stranger, robbing a gas station, stealing underwear and extorting a pedophile, there is a very touching love story that does a deep-dive on your conception of that age old question put forth by the great philosopher Haddaway a quarter of a century ago – “What is love?”
Hit us up on Twitter @Official_FAN with your answer, because we wanna know what love is. we know you can show us. Also TEOTFW is streaming now on Netflix – so, enjoy that.