Rating: 4 out of 5.

Do you love rom-coms? How about aggressively adorable animals? Puppy Love not only checks both of these boxes, but also brings together the charisma of Grant Gustin and the sass of Lucy Hale into a rousing one-two punch of mismatched romantic interests and doe-eyed doggies. Is it really any surprise that their chemistry, both with one another and with their two prospective canine best friends, leaps contagiously off the screen? Directed and co-written by Richard Allen Reid, Puppy Love has all the makings of an instant-classic R-rated romantic comedy that will leave folks howling in excitement.

Nicole (Hale) and Max (Gustin) are opposites in every way. Nicole is messy at home and in her romantic entanglements—emotionally distant, she can’t even be bothered to properly pronounce her new beau’s name. On the flip side, Max is a nerdy worry wart with bad anxiety, afraid to return to the I.T. office post-covid, and an adamant germaphobe. As fate would have it, dogs enter their lives in the most unexpected of ways. For Max, his therapist urges him to “make a canine connection;” for Nicole, a random stray catches her eye a few times outside her apartment building. 

Max cherry-picks Chloe from a shelter, and before long already speaks to her like a human. Chloe gets a tour of Max’s place, including his many unopened 80s toys, vintage Pez, and even a swanky Godfather cigar. From the very first face-lick, Max becomes more okay with her presence. He rescues a toy under the bed for her using a lightsaber in his underwear—the first of many times in Puppy Love where Gustin’s physique is on display. Nicole and her new dog, Chan (named after Channing Tatum), have a rather different experience. Nicole decides to bring him in as a “one night stand” that quickly evolves into more… despite her trashed abode, Nicole shows genuine concern when Chan gets into her days-old noodles. 

By some crazy coincidence (here, we will call it movie magic), both Max and Nicole scurry to Bumble at the same time, updating their profiles to include cutesy photos of them posing with their dogs. The two match, and the rest, as they say, is history. Only with Puppy Love, the central draw is that its pairing appears far from traditional. This is not love at first sight. Max and Nicole have a date that goes astronomically awry, when Nicole attempts to get Max hopped up on the “truth serum” of ghost pepper wings. Their pairing ends with vomit and a revolting trip to the Port-A-Potty. Vowing to lose one another’s numbers, an unexpected canine pregnancy brings them back together again. Surely they can handle being cordial with puppies on the way?

As Max and Nicole are inexplicably drawn together, I could not help rooting for them. They show their dogs how to do the noodle trick from Lady and the Tramp. They attend doggie lamaze together, resulting in Max on all fours getting his ears rubbed. Max’s ultra-nerdy exterior gives way to a heart of gold; Nicole has had trouble connecting after the sudden death of her father caused her to withdraw from a school of art and design. Their unlikely connection lives up to the obvious trope of opposites attracting. If anything, Puppy Love has a certain old-school charm to it as a result that feels impossible to resist.

As any dog lover will know, finding someone else who is also as passionate about man’s best friend is a major relationship essential. Puppy Love never loses sight of the adorable love story between Chan and Chloe, and the audience gets treated to two concurrent romances unfolding before them. Occasionally, the clunky cuts to black, clearly formatted for television, pull one out of the pacing. The anticipation feels so great about Max and Nicole getting together that by the time it actually occurs, we do not get to revel in the aftereffects for nearly long enough. Nevertheless, Puppy Love brings an unforgettable slutty/mutty romance to life in style.

Sit, then roll over when Puppy Love comes to FreeVee, on Friday, August 18th.

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