‘Starstruck’ strays from typical rom-com, all for the better

‘Starstruck’ strays from typical rom-com, all for the better

‘Starstruck’ strays from typical rom-com, all for the better
Nikesh Patel plays Tom and Rose Matafeo plays Jessie in the HBO Max romantic comedy, “Starstruck.”

Don Pedro Cruz(Apr. 10, 2022) — New Zealand comedian and actor Rose Matafeo says she came up with the idea for “Starstruck” while drunk on a long flight. Perhaps that’s why she starts her HBO Max rom-com series with main character Jessie stumbling through a boozy New Year’s Eve at a London club.

Waking up the next morning with a one-night stand, Jessie realizes he is famous movie actor Tom Kapoor (Nikesh Patel). No longer drunk, the pair begin to see romantic sparks. And that’s all the setup needed for this cleverly written series.

Tom’s blockbuster action film has just been released, so he is constantly swarmed by fans and paparazzi. By contrast, Jessie works at a small cinema and hangs out with her best friend and roommate Kate (Emma Sidi). But the standard rom-com relationship obstacles – miscommunications, mixed signals and meddling friends – soon complicate their budding romance.

All of that may sound somewhat tired, but Matafeo’s comic timing and wit brings a bubbly stream of genuine laughs. And although the romance’s ups and downs lead to several familiar plots, Matafeo doesn’t always let them play out in the expected manner. Instead, she moves through the missteps in more realistic ways. Situations that would likely spiral out of control in a less deft comedy often find more pleasing resolutions.

Sidestepping expectations

In one Season 2 scene, Jessie breaks into hysterical crying after reading a pregnancy test. In a lesser comedy, this might spill over into big drama and accusations but here, Jessie just reads the box instructions more closely and sees that she misread the result. She then immediately shrugs it off as she realizes all is well. It’s a funny bit mostly because it feels real and breaks comedic expectations.

Jessie has a solid center; but in tricky situations, her expressions often betray the battle between her insecurity and her overconfidence. She is comfortable with her own awkwardness and uses humor to deflect from it when other people take notice.

Meanwhile, Tom is drawn to Jessie’s wit and candor, which comes as a counterpoint to the superficial-appearing life of a celebrity. In some ways, he’s almost too perfect as a love interest, but he does have flaws and insecurities – revealed slowly as the series progresses.

Other characters provide funny banter and help drive the story. Kate and Jessie’s twentysomething Londoner friends mostly serve as backdrops for the two leads. Tom’s bombastic agent Cath (Minnie Driver) pushes him begrudgingly toward a life with which he’s not entirely comfortable.

Likeable couple

Mostly, the spotlight stays with Jessie and Tom and how they navigate their relationship. The series’ thoughtful and nuanced writing makes it easy to care about what happens to them.

Matafeo’s performance recently earned her a well-deserved British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nomination for best female performance in a comedy program.

“Starstruck” sticks to simple, sweet and funny. It isn’t breaking new ground, but it will make you smile and maybe forget about the prospect of nuclear war for a few half-hour stretches.

Season 2 arrived in late March. Each season has only six episodes, making it comfortably bingeable.

Watch the trailer for HBO Max’s “Starstruck” here:

Don Pedro Cruz went to film school before becoming a baker. He then got into publishing at several tech magazines in San Francisco before moving to the newspaper world as a graphic designer. He also writes stuff. Send comments to pedrocruzpioneer@gmail.com