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October 22, 2019

Opening Hearts, and Doors

Tales of romance, New York City–style, beguile in Amazon's Modern Love.

Ann Farmer
  • Laurentiu Possa and Cristin Milioti

    Amazon
  • John Carney (seated, with headphones)

    Amazon

Did you read the one about the woman and her exceedingly attentive doorman?

How about the couple who land in the hospital on their second date? Or the seniors who meet cute while jogging? The estranged lovers secretly pining for each other? The woman with bipolar disorder who struggles to pull off a date?

These are some of the many personal essays that have run in The New York Times's Modern Love column over the past 15 years. Some were subsequently turned into podcasts. Now, in a collaboration between the Times and Amazon, eight have been transformed into a video anthology that launches on the streaming service October 18.

"If they jumped out at me and made me smile or laugh or think or feel something, I was in," says showrunner John Carney, who pored over the column's archives for essays that he felt captured its essence — finding love in unlikely places. "Not necessarily the love you choose," says the Irish filmmaker, who also serves as an executive producer, writer and director of four episodes, "but the love you find that chooses you."

Carney knows a thing or two about filming uncommon love stories. He wrote and directed the award-winning musical film Once, about a romantic non-romance between two struggling musicians in Dublin. He, in fact, invited Cristin Milioti, who performed the female lead in the Broadway adaptation, to participate in the Modern Love series.

She jumped at the chance to portray the essay writer whose close, platonic relationship with her doorman, Milioti observes, "is beautiful for the very fact that it's impossible to label."

The series is enhanced by its roster of high-caliber actors: Tina Fey and John Slattery hit the court as tennis-playing spouses who may not survive their gnawing marital frustrations. Catherine Keener portrays an inquisitive journalist who unintentionally plays Cupid for a tech CEO (Dev Patel).

Anne Hathaway, as the woman with bipolar disorder, alternately beams like a 200-watt bulb or withers like a dying weed. When she's up, though, there's no stopping her. Carney sends her euphorically singing, dancing and flirting through grocery aisles and skipping down Fifth Avenue. "Anne gave it all she had," Carney says.

Each episode runs about 30 minutes, and none replicates its original story exactly. Carney says he read each essay only once, jotting down notes for how to bring it alive visually. Other directors took their own approaches. "It's a very big change of format," he says, "so you need to be open to something that works."

For instance, when doorman Guzmin (Laurentiu Possa) bluntly tells Milioti's character, Maggie, that her date is never going to call again — an assertion she promptly dismisses — we see her checking her phone all night long for the text that never comes. That plaintively funny sight was all Carney. So was the ending (no spoilers!), when Guzmin's intuition again proves correct.

"We needed to pay it off," Carney says. "I saw it as more proof that this guy truly knew what he was talking about."

A doorman as love guru — it could only happen in New York.


this article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue no. 10, 2019

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