The quirky humanities major’s search for a Hollywood romance, rather than a boozy one night stand, stems from her love of classic romances. She frequently references Nora Ephron films, such as “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally…,” during her narration at the beginning and throughout the film.
However, she’s quite pessimistic about current dating culture. “It’s time to say goodbye to grand gestures,” Blake says in her article about her love life. “The grandest it gets these days is swiping right instead of left. As your local hopeless romantic, I am sad to report that romance is dead.”
After her editor, Matt (played by Avan Jogia from “Twisted” and “Victorious”) ends her column and reassigns her to writing reviews, the young journalist begins to look for a sensual topic that will help her fight for her column back.
While searching for inspiration through a night out with her best friend and roommate, Nikki (played by Hayley Law from “Riverdale”), Blake meets Morgan (played by Camila Mendes also from “Riverdale”), a young woman who uses her feminine wiles and sexuality to make money as a sugar baby.
Morgan tells her about all the gifts she has received from her past and current lovers and even encourages her to explore the possibility of being a sugar baby too.
Embarrassed by the offer, Blake initially declines before her editor criticizes her lack of adventure and creativity in another article the following day. She tells Matt about her offer to become a sugar baby, and he encourages her to follow the story.
When Jacob (played by Brett Dier from “Jane the Virgin”), a coworker who has a flirty rivalry with her, enters a Gonzo journalism competition for a Hunter S. Thompson award worth $50,000, she decides to also submit.
Motivated by the prize money and wanting her column back, Blake contacts her sugar baby friend again, who introduces her to Ian, played by Timm Sharp, a wealthy older professor and author, and they slowly develop a sugar daddy/sugar baby relationship.
Throughout “The New Romantic,” Blake is wide-eyed and utterly clueless when handling her relationship with Ian, as well as her work as a columnist. Her innocence and sickly-sweet voice contrast with the wise, rugged beard and distant attitude of Ian in a way that could intrigue or disgust viewers.
However, Barden’s portrayal of a young woman with child-like low standards is the strongest aspect of the 2018 film. Every silent scene and close-up of her face show more emotion and carry the story along more than anything Sharp says during the film.
“The New Romantic” explores Blake’s relationship with Ian, as well as whether or not what she is doing with him is considered prostitution.
When Ian asks her what she wants in return over their first so-called date at a fancy restaurant, she simply answers romance, knowing full well she has a chance of getting $50,000 and her column back for their relationship. Although romance is all she wants, he gives it to her in the form of large gifts and surprises throughout the film.
By asking for romance in a transactional sexual relationship instead of money or gifts like her friend Morgan, she is not only confusing Ian but also herself. Although she is directed by her obsession with the classic romance stories, she is limited by her environment as well as her patience.
On the other hand, rather than impatiently waiting around for her prince charming to appear, she takes charge of the situation, doing what she at least thinks will benefit her most in the long run. Even her supportive best friend views the situation between them as cute.
Still, Blake tries to justify and normalize her and Ian’s relationship, both to herself and others. “Wealthy older people supporting struggling younger ones is nothing revolutionary,” Blake says. “Maybe relationships aren’t supposed to be for love, but for survival.”
Earlier in the film, Blake and Nikki discuss if they think a sugar baby is an empowering and feminist position or the glorified equivalent to a prostitute. Once Blake is in a relationship with Ian, and he refuses to see her outside of their scheduled dates, she asks herself these questions again.
“I don’t know what being a hooker feels like,” Blake muses. “What if it feels just like this?”
“The New Romantic” answers this question when a clip of a YouTuber explaining the difference between prostitution and a sugar baby/sugar daddy relationship plays over scenes of Blake and the professor meeting and having sex.
Although the film is entertaining and takes an analytical look at these aspects of sex and romance, it is also concerning.
Websites like Seeking Arrangement and Sugarbabies are just as accessible to young men and women as the typical dating and hookup apps, such as Tinder and Bumble. “The New Romantic” constantly acknowledges these dating apps as a part of the hookup culture amongst teens and young adults today.
These sugar baby/sugar daddy arrangements could be dangerous, especially for young people who misunderstand what the relationship means, just like the protagonist. “The New Romantic” is a step in the right direction toward showing the truth behind these arrangements rather than a false, fantasy version.