There’s no doubt director Stuart McDonald’s “A Perfect Pairing” pairs perfectly with a nice bottle of wine on a lonely night at home. Providing a respite from our hectic reality, this romantic comedy centered on an assured woman who finds love and purpose in the land down under offers delightful entertainment while playing to our most wholesome sensibilities. Charming, cute and fairly satisfying, it follows the formula for Netflix branded content that’s typically reserved for their holiday films, going down smoothly and pleasing the palate.
Lola Alvarez (Victoria Justice) puts her clients’ happiness before her own. Though she loves her job as sales director at a wine distribution company, she despises her cruel, condescending boss Calder (Craig Horner). Her love life’s been on pause after a divorce a few years prior, and she hasn’t felt the need to press play since, using her busy work schedule as an excuse. However, when desperate colleague Audra (Lacy Durack) betrays her, cutting in line for a promotion, Lola quits in a fit of rage and starts her own wine import firm. With only one small account on her roster, she needs a big label to make a splash in the industry.
Enter Vaughn Family Wines in Queensland, Australia, run by prickly businesswoman Hazel Vaughn (Samantha Cain). Lola’s caught wind that the highly rated brand is looking for a company to handle their imports to America. Knowing Calder is also chasing the same client, gumption-filled Lola decides to stealthily snipe this account away, booking an Airbnb on Hazel’s family sheep farm (or station, in local parlance). But when her pitch is brutally rejected, her scheme shifts. She takes a job as a farmhand to prove her worth, something Max (Adam Demos), Hazel’s trusted confidante and handsome station manager, advises against. Yet as Max trains Lola in new skillsets, the pair begin to fall for each other, leading him to divulge a secret past that directly affects his future.
McDonald and screenwriters Elizabeth Hackett and Hilary Galanoy straddle a fine line, nailing the female gaze with glossy shots of the sweaty, shirtless hunk — a prerequisite for a swoon-worthy romance on the streamer, and subscribers will be thanking DP Ben Nott for the beefcake showcase. Yet they forget to give their heroine much in the way of inner struggle to surmount. Since Lola is shown as capable from the start, rarely losing sight of her goals, she doesn’t experience much internal growth, let alone a meaningful arc. When she goes through an inevitable awakening to her unique opportunity despite a minor setback, making her contributions count versus going through the motions, the change is barely perceptible. It’s actually Max who experiences a more well-rounded journey — albeit one stoked exclusively by her presence, encouraging his motivational change for the better.
Lola’s initial fish-out-of-water inexperience is gently humorous, leading to cutesy scenarios kooky enough to establish Justice as a lovable romcom lead, pulling off comedic pratfalls and drama with equal aplomb. She gives it her all, conjuring chemistry with not only her human co-stars, but even a sheep (nicknamed Baa-rbra Streisand) that her character is attempting to rescue. There’s a natural, breezy ease, meanwhile, between Justice and Demos — whose own performance pulls us into his character’s conundrum with authenticity and vulnerability, .
Below the line, McDonald and his crew bring some visual panache to proceedings — notably in a barroom singalong scene (to Aussie rockers Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”), where a centralized camera acts as the feverish fulcrum, spinning around to show station staff gleefully drinking and belting. A sheep-shearing sequence likewise has vibrant energy, while transitional montages make transportive use of the lush landscape and local wildlife — down to the adorable joey glimpsed in a golden-hour glow while the characters, in one of the script’s more heavy-handed metaphors, are out mending fences.
While cuddling and coddling us, the picture simultaneously presents the benefits of some personal and professional disruptions in life — an aspirational, cornerstone sentiment endemic to the genre, neither betrayed nor especially advanced here. “A Perfect Pairing” may lack a unique complexity and leave some sediment behind, but its finish is pleasing nonetheless.
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