If you like sexism in your lowbrow TV movies, you won’t mind Love on the Sidelines. If you prefer your female-targeted entertainment to be a little more supportive of women, however, you probably shouldn’t be watching the Hallmark Channel in the first place. That said, I clearly don’t take my own advice, which explains how I end up reviewing tv romances on a Friday night. That this one offers a few pleasant surprises doesn’t make it productive viewing – it ends up being of a dumping ground for gender stereotypes – but at least it’s not as boring.
Star Emily Kinney of The Walking Dead fame is a refreshing change from the usual crop of cardboard cutouts who front Hallmark’s productions. Though she is white and blond, she also has a bubbly Emma Pillsbury (the wide-eyed counselor in Glee) quality, minus the awkwardness. You might imagine a tamer version of an Anna Faris character as well. Either way, Kinney’s character Laurel is a woman who knows what she wants, and that is a job in the fashion industry. But the real world beckons and the only work she can find is with a personal assistant agency. She ends up as a last minute replacement, coming to the aid of injured footballer Danny Holland (John Reardon).
The sports arena is sort of untested waters as far as Hallmark is concerned. Usually love happens in a parade or a kitchen or on a bale of hay. The competitive atmosphere fits Laurel’s character, a woman who wants to do the best damn job at everything, even if it’s limited to being a footballer’s gofer. Her long-term anxieties, however, are focused on finding a job that satisfies her creative talents. She’s disinterested in love even when it hobbles towards her, and it’s nice to finally see this representation of women on this channel. It turns out we can be fulfilled without a romantic partner. That Laurel eventually gets one is just icing on the cake.
The wonderful world of sports also provides ripe ground for stereotype though. The movie pushes hard the narrative that despite being a complete outsider, nothing’s going to stop Laurel. It’s an admirable point and one that could be made without resorting to sexist clichés. She is a complete blank when it comes to sports, and though I accept that not everyone recognizes the name Knute Rockne, her cluelessness makes a parody of the reductive nerd vs. jock trope.
Danny, a star quarterback who is out with a leg injury, is insulted by the notion of a female personal assistant. “I’m a football player!” he proclaims, as if that bestowed upon him some magic powers. He can’t belch and walk around in his underwear with a girl hanging around, he reasons, and boasts eagerly, if somewhat sarcastically, that he can’t wait to go back to being a chauvinist. That wasn’t even the scene that disappointed me most though. When Laurel acts as a literal gatekeeper to give Danny a chance to rest, one of his teammates whom she doesn’t recognize asks to come in. She doesn’t budge and the hulking athlete simply picks her up and barges into the house. Still carrying her, he asks Danny if Laurel “belongs” to him, to which he replies that it’s up for debate. Boys, girls, Hallmark, women are not dolls. Is that too hard to understand?
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Judith Berg, Sandra Berg
Cast: Emily Kinney, John Reardon, Hayley Sales, Luisa D’Oliveira, Joe Theismann, Tommy Europe, Victor Zinck Jr.
Time: 83 min
Country: United States