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Here is the good climbing advice. “One move at a time,” says an earnest Josh. “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
The rest of the climbing dialogue? O cringe.
The film is “Love Hard,” which went to #1 on Netflix in November, and this month was—sort of—recommended by the New York Times in its “Netflix Holiday Movies Ranked” list.
“This rom-com has such a sketchy premise that its spectacular recovery should count as an Olympics-worthy gymnastics feat,” the article tells us, continuing: “The biggest test is that viewers are asked to not hate Josh (Jimmy O. Yang) after he catfishes Natalie (Nina Dobrev) by using a photo of his hunky friend Tag (Darren Barnet) on a dating app.”
But the off-the-wall premises start even earlier. Natalie, a young woman in LA with the improbable and supposedly fulltime job of writing about her terrible dating life, meets someone online and flies across the country, to wintry Lake Placid, the Adirondacks, to … surprise him for Christmas? Who does that?!
So, OK … the chagrined Josh, who’d purloined his friend’s photo (“catfishing”), says that if she will pretend to be his girlfriend in front of his family, he will introduce her to the real Tag. Tag likes climbing. Natalie claims to climb, and she and Josh meet Tag at a climbing gym.
Writes a reviewer for www.looper.com: “Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O. Yang are absolutely adorable as screen partners throughout their many misadventures in ‘Love Hard,’ and there’s one scene in particular that makes us love these actors even more.
“It’s the climb.”
No! It isn’t.
The climbing scenario is kooky, with mystery topropes from heaven and a flat ballroom-floor-sized topout. Natalie reaches this spot for summit glory, but panics, unable to lower (while being told incorrectly, “Just rappel!”). Josh clips swiftly into a handy proximal locking carabiner on a rope, and leaps and bounds up the wall to the rescue, arriving at the plateau seconds later … with a tie-in knot! Because Natalie is afraid to descend, he, well, pushes her off. She goes zinging down, still roped, landing with a thump.
So, back to reality …. The movie was filmed in British Columbia, and the climbing took place in Vancouver Heights at the former Cliffhanger Climbing Gym, now under new ownership and named the Hive.
We phoned the place and spoke to Aiko Rudell, the good-humored assistant manager.
So about that big mesa?
“They built a platform,” she says. “Where the person gets thrown off—that doesn’t exist. It’s gone.” She laughs about the character being pushed, saying, “How did she not die?”
Climbers in the gym have no access to the top of the wall.
Back to that scene: While the climbing of the principal characters is unpolished, in the scene where Josh and Natalie are on the platform, a few climbers can be seen moving smoothly on a steep wall across the gym.
The most visible of those is a gym employee, Erica Skalenda (Rudell, too, had the chance, but went off on vacation, which she now slightly rues). Skalenda, current desk staff at the Hive, can be identified by her long hair and long-sleeved green top. Bruce Allen, also shown in the scene and wearing a gray tank top, is a former staff member (of Cliffhanger). Eric Furlotte (a former Cliffhanger manager) was on set to help with setup and safety.
The gym was closed from October 17 to 21, 2020, for the project, with two days of actual filming.
Visible in the immediate background in the film’s trailer is Kwasi Thomas (Adam), another actor in the film. Skalenda taught both him and Darren Barnet (Tag) to belay (we want to hand it to her; Thomas looks conscientious). She herself belayed Nina Dobrev (Natalie) and Jimmy O. Yang (Josh) to help them become comfortable with climbing before filming.
During filming Skalenda was stationed on an overhang.
“I had to keep climbing up and down without a break for 10 or 15 minutes many times,” Skalenda says. “I got so pumped on the wall, I thought I was going to fall off.”
Another amusing continuity error occurs when she is climbing on the overhang and the film suddenly cuts to her on the ground pretending to route-read.
Jimmy O. Yang, who plays Josh, told insider.com of the climbing: “Especially when we shot it, the scene where I’m trying to calm her down on the top of the rock climbing wall, I was very scared, but I had to pretend everything was OK …. Whereas actually Nina is a daredevil and she’s very athletic. So she had to pretend she was scared.”
This watcher could never get past the ridiculous premise(s), but the lead actors really were charismatic and the film had its moments. Plus think how fit Skalenda got.
See the trailer here.