Her name is Hadley, and she hates mayo. His name is Oliver, and he hates surprises.
One gets the feeling they would fall head over heels for director Vanessa Caswill’s feel-good romantic comedy “Love at First Sight” — if, that is, they weren’t so busy falling head over heels for each other as the main characters in Caswill’s film.
Not only does it feature minimal mayonnaise, but it’s also a largely surprise-free affair, an often charming but deeply formulaic exercise, from the first-act meet-cute all the way through to the inevitable happily ever after.
If there’s a surprise to be had, it’s that Caswill’s film — even with its generic narrative architecture and even more generic title — manages to work anyway, as a pleasantly diverting, empty-calorie cinematic snack.
Chemistry in the cast
Part of that is due to the work of Haley Lu Richardson and Ben Hardy, who share enough chemistry as the romantic leads to make their obligatory third-act lip-lock a satisfyingly sweet moment.
But also credit Caswill, who leans into rather than shying from the story’s myriad genre tropes, from its setting — London at Christmastime — to its twee soundtrack.
While that holds her film back from becoming anything truly memorable, it also lends it a comforting familiarity, recalling the rom-coms of the 1990s, such as “Notting Hill,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”
To be clear, “Love at First Sight” is nowhere in those movies’ leagues. Rather, it merely echoes the conventions they helped established.
Still, it goes down far more easily than the budget-friendly tripe so often passed off as a romantic comedy here in the streaming era.
No math, please
In this case, it’s all based on Jennifer E. Smith’s 2011 novel “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.” Netflix decided to shorten that mouthful of a title, presumably so people wouldn’t assume it’s a movie about something as unromantic as math — although that longer original title does provide a hint at what’s in store.
Specifically, it provides insight into Hardy’s surprise-averse Oliver, a Yale-educated statistician who — for reasons the film makes clear — finds comfort in the predictability of numbers.
Richardson’s Hadley, on the other hand, is a hot mess: always running late, phone never charged, repeatedly leaving her backpack behind.
They’re both adorable, though — and kind, to boot. So, after their chance encounter at JFK Airport while awaiting a trans-Atlantic flight, it becomes easy to root for them.
Meanwhile, they bond. That bond grows over a shared plate of airport food (and their shared aversion to mayo), then a shared dash to their gate, followed by a shared flight to London.
By the time they land, they’re sharing the hots for one another.
Lost in the airport
Then, amid the airport chaos, they get separated, setting up the rest of the film, which plays out over the course of a particularly hectic 24-hour period. As we learn about their pasts, they try to reconnect, with a string of contrivances alternately helping and hindering them.
Chief among their issues is Hadley’s frankly inexcusable phone hygiene. But, as with so many movies nowadays, a working cellphone would end “Love at First Sight” before it ever really got started. So, for the convenience of the plot, Hadley is either draining it, dropping it or plopping it in something icky.
If this were a real-life romance, her phone issues would be a major red flag. Oliver, bless him, doesn’t seem bothered by it.
Similarly, Hadley doesn’t appear put off by his C-3P0-like tendency to spout the odds of any given situation unsolicited. So they’re a good pair.
Caswill’s film gets extra points for the presence of the statuesque Jameela Jamil, who — in one of the film’s more creative flourishes — pops up repeatedly as the story’s narrator.
Even better is the inclusion of British acting veterans Dexter Fletcher and Sally Phillips as close members of Oliver’s family.
Without giving anything away, their big scene together is easily among the most affecting moments in “Love at First Sight,” adding much-needed emphasis to its exploration of love, family connections and fate.
They are, hands down, the best of the film’s few surprises.
Unfortunately, you’re still on your own when it comes to mayonnaise.
Mike Scott can be reached at [email protected].