This goes without saying, but dating as a millennial can be a hellish experience. Between extended “talking stages,” ghosting, and starting over every few months, attempting to find love these days feels much harder than it needs to be. Add being Black to the equation, and the experience becomes even more complicated. However few and far between, dating also has its beautiful moments, and new film Really Love finds itself in those warm, fuzzy pockets. A brainchild of Angel Kristi Williams and Felicia Pride, the film zeroes in on two young Black people who find themselves lovingly entangled in the streets of Washington D.C. The result? A charmingly simple and relatable love story — and a reminder that the process of falling in love is, in fact, not always that romantic.
Really Love, recently released on Netflix, follows the complicated relationship between career-focused couple Isaiah (the ever-handsome Kofi Siriboe) and Stevie (queen Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing) amidst the dynamic backdrop of the Black part of the US capital. The premise of the film seems deceptively straightforward — two young people trying to make the puzzle pieces of their respective lives fit together — but that’s kind of the point. It’s just a story about real love and how we find or lose it along the way.
A passionate aspiring painter, Isaiah is fuelled by his dreams of becoming a star within the art world, spending his days working under the tutelage of established artist Yusef Davis (Michael Ealy with a tiny, tiny hoop earring) in hopes of catching his big break. That trajectory changes slightly upon meeting Stevie, a stunning and intelligent law student on the cusp of greatness. Their paths collide in one searing moment at an art gallery, quickly leading them down a journey of romance and genuine companionship. The chemistry between the characters is not only steamy but aspirational, especially pronounced in a molasses-sweet, swoon-inducing montage of Isaiah and Stevie taking in the D.C. locale on various dates. (People are really falling in love out here. Who knew?)
As the relationship progresses, however, a crop of issues arise for Isaiah and Stevie, respectively triggering them as well as the audience. What throws them off course isn’t anything particularly traumatic like a death or disaster or toxicity — a welcome change we've been seeing within Black romance canon as of late — but many minor misunderstandings piling up on one another. While Isaiah's time for his relationship dwindles as his career advances, Stevie's confidence in her future with him begins to shrink by the day, her certainty further chipped away by the disapproval of her bougie but well-meaning parents. Life is the true antagonist of this tale, further complicating things for people who just want to be together. And isn't that how it is in reality? Wanting to be on the same page but never really being on the same page?
"I think we just wanted to tell a really honest love story," Pride recently told PopSugar of Really Love. "Relationships can be challenging, and especially challenging when you both...have dreams and goals and the world's bumping up against those dreams and goals, so I think we just wanted to try to tell an honest story."
Stories like Really Love, grounded in the seemingly minute details of the human experience, are often mislabelled for their focus on the slow burn; The Photograph and Sylvie's Love conjured up critiques of being "too slow" upon their release. Most times, however, that perspective is a result of the many TV/film relationships that are in a state of constant chaos. And love can be like that sometimes, a raging storm or an uncontainable wildfire. But other times, it's more ordinary. Eye contact. Butterflies. Dinner with friends. Silent arguments. Comfort. Disappointment. Regrets. A lull, and then, finally, unfortunately...nothing. No inexplicable tragedy, no unbelievable trauma. Just life getting in the way as it tends to do.
That's the message that Pride and Williams convey with Really Love. Normalcy isn't something often afforded to Black narratives in Hollywood — especially not ones starring dark skinned Black people. Pride and Williams create a world in which Black people can just be, and just be in love, hangups and all. That means making room for things to burn slow or be messy, to make things clear or leave them ambiguous where other stories would have typically concluded in a relationship-solidifying kiss. Not everything can be tied up neatly before the end credits start rolling — the wondering is part of the journey. That's just life.
Really Love is now available for streaming on Netflix.