Starring: Akari Hayami, Anna Ishibashi, Asuka Kudô
Director: Saiji Yakumo
Running Time: 108 mins
My Pretend Girlfriend is a Japanese film about a high school boy and girl who are asked to pretend that they are going out in order to dispel a bad rumour about a classmate, but complications soon arise when one falls for the other.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a film that’s so close to being good, but by just missing the mark, is wildly worse than it should be. That’s unfortunately the case for My Pretend Girlfriend, a film whose story has the potential to be a strongly emotional coming-of-age tale, but is instead little more than your average high school romantic drama that takes itself far too seriously to prove properly entertaining in any way.
Let’s start off with the potential that the story had at first. Although starting off on a fairly cheesy note, with our main character bumping into a former love of his now at adult age, leading him to reminisce about his time with his pretend girlfriend, I felt that the film quickly established a strong atmosphere of both nostalgia and good emotional drama. Nothing too melodramatic, but just serious enough to get you intrigued in whatever happened to this man back in high school.
From there, what I expected to see was a continuation of that atmosphere, one that prioritised the emotional nostalgia of reminiscing about the past, and rather than being a simple romantic drama, would be a coming-of-age tale told with hindsight, something that we don’t see all that often, and would definitely make for some riveting watching, and a fascinating insight into our lead character.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t take that opportunity to offer a deeper, more engrossing character study, and instead goes for a plot that’s a whole lot more generic, and still sits with a melodramatic and overly serious atmosphere for a romance that’s in no way as emotionally charged as it thinks of itself.
As a result, I rapidly lost interest in this film, and felt very disappointed by what felt like an incredibly easy route throughout, with the characters’ position in the present day rendered almost pointless by the fact that the high school romance story was told in a completely orthodox manner, thereby eliminating an entire level of emotional depth.
There are elements of the film that do remain, particularly the notion of nostalgia (although somewhat softened by the loss of focus on the present day characters), which makes the lighter romantic tones of the film a little more pleasant to follow, particularly those that focus on the general idea of first loves and the like, however the majority of the story loses its potential power as it simply takes itself far too seriously as a bog-standard romantic drama.
The performances here are similar to the story’s positives and negatives. On the one hand, the actors do a good job at portraying a somewhat nostalgic image of young boyfriends and girlfriends, and the chemistry between the leads is strong enough to make their relationships convincing. With that said, however, they still act as if they’re in nothing more than a romantic drama, and don’t really offer enough to portray their characters’ coming-of-age, which was a real shame to see.
Overall, I was very disappointed with My Pretend Girlfriend. Under the surface, it’s a film that really has the potential to be something both pleasantly and deeply moving, combining the nostalgia of young love with a riveting coming-of-age story told from the present day. However, in the end, it’s nothing more than a typical and generic romantic drama that doesn’t offer anywhere near the level of emotional depth required to match its overly serious tones, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.4.