‘Looking for Her’ delivers a cozy holiday romance story

Olive (Alexandra Swarens) and Taylor (Olivia Buckle) in "Looking for Her."
Olive (Alexandra Swarens) and Taylor (Olivia Buckle) in “Looking for Her.”
Good Deed Entertainment

The modest, affable lesbian holiday rom-com, “Looking for Her,” uses the fake dating trope to get its two attractive opposites together — but the women are so likable that the ruse, however predictable and transparent, is never unpleasant.

Taylor (Olivia Buckle) is a driven writer for an online publication. She is bitter that her parents, Cheryl (Sophie Arrick-Lewis) and Frank (Robert Artz) haven’t been very accepting or supporting since she came out. She is also a bit dejected because of her breakup with Jess (Allie Spetalnick) a month ago. When Taylor texts Jess to come pick up her stuff, there is no sex with the ex; it is more about providing a sense of closure.

In contrast, Olive (Alexandra Swarens), is open to anything. She is primarily looking for work as an actress — because she can’t seem to keep the job at a coffee shop, and her dog walking gig is not especially lucrative. As the film’s metaphors go, Olive is scrappy ramen noodles to Taylor’s controlled pad Thai.

It is, of course, only a matter of time before these two women meet, and “Looking for Her” can be accused of taking too long to get there. (The women do actually have a brief, wordless encounter at the coffee shop when Olive is running late one day, a missed opportunity for them to meet cute and connect.)

The plot kicks in as Taylor is in need of a girlfriend for Christmas. Her parents not only insist she come home this year, but they claim that they also are more open-minded after their past, shameful attitudes about her sexuality. To counter this offer, Taylor lies about still being with Jess; she does not want to “admit defeat” at having had a failed lesbian relationship. As such, Taylor needs to find a woman to pose as Jess to fool her parents. After the typical montage of inappropriate options — an unfunny sequence that deserves a moratorium — Taylor connects with Olive through a newspaper personals ad of all places. For $1,000, Olive must pretend to be Jess, Taylor’s girlfriend for a week. It’s a win-win situation for the woman who wants a fake girlfriend and a woman who wants fast cash.

However, Taylor and Olive do have to be convincing. While they get along well, they don’t work too hard on their backstory — leaving Olive as Jess to improvise about her job (she’s a software designer) — or act affectionately towards this perfect stranger, as when they are caught under mistletoe and have to kiss. But it is nice when Olive clasps Taylor’s hand as they arrive at Taylor’s parent’s home or gives her a chaste kiss at breakfast one morning.

“Looking for Her” does not raise the stakes too high here, and that works in its favor. Swarens is emphasizing the characters, not their situation. The women share a trundle bed, which means they avoid having to sleep together, but do get to pose the question, “Top or bottom.” (Such is the film’s corny humor. There’s an ugly sweater party, too.) Jess also tells a charming story about how she and Taylor met that illustrates what a great actress she is. Even a scene where Olive makes Taylor a cup of cocoa and they roast marshmallows by the fire is sweet; they get to know each other, and in the process, themselves a bit as well. Olive even endears herself to Cheryl and Frank as they select and trim the Christmas tree or prepare food for a family holiday gathering.

It is all working out so beautifully that a problem is sure to arise — and it does when Taylor has second thoughts about maintaining the charade. Taylor may be developing unexpected feeling for her fake girlfriend and Olive, who is putting on act — isn’t she? — and may be sending mixed signals herself. Both of them are scared of being honest.

“Looking for Her” does not generate much dramatic tension as things play out in obvious ways, but it does allow for nice moments such as a heart-to-heart Taylor has with her mother.

As Taylor, Buckle is appealing even when she is a little intense. She talks about her need to please and the pressure she feels to not let her parents down, which suggests that there is a wilder woman underneath her composed exterior. The film could have given Taylor more of an opportunity to let loose. Instead, watching Taylor eat junk food seems to be the extent of her recklessness — if only because she admits to not having much of a sweet tooth.

Swarens is far more relaxed in her role, which provides a nice contrast. She is engaging without trying too hard and endearing overall. But like Taylor, her character is not very complex.

In support, Sophie Arrick-Lewis provides maternal warmth, while Robert Artz plays his dad part with enthusiasm.

“Looking for Her” has such a mellow, unassuming feel-good vibe that it seems hard to fault it for its amateurishness or corniness. The film has more romance than Christmas spirit, but that does not make it any less cozy.

“Looking for Her” | Directed by Alexandra Swarens | Available On Demand December 9 | Distributed by Good Deed Entertainment.

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