What do you call a rom-com without the com? Technically From Zero to I Love You isn’t a comedy. It’s a gay romance through and through, but it has all the tropes of a rom-com. From the meet-cute, the therapist, the art-gallery job, the zippy title, the improbable scenarios, the side-kicks whose only function is to act as the lead character’s inner voices, and of course, the big dramatic finale (in a public space – rain optional). But From Zero to I Love You is a drama in a rom-com’s clothing.
Jack (Scott Bailey) is a married man with a secret urge (no prizes for guessing what that is) and once he starts drunkenly exploring, he meets Pete (Darryl Stephens), a guy with a bad habit of falling for married men. After sneaking around with Pete on the side, the guilt gets to Jack and he starts coming out to his closest friends. Eventually He has to decide whether to stay with his wife of 15 years, or pursue a relationship with Pete.
The set up really has the legs to go in either direction – drama or comedy. There lies the root of some of the film’s issues. Rom-coms are a heightened world and we all suspend our disbelief at the coincidences, pointed dialogue and neat resolutions that they require. Once you strip away the comedy, we’re brought back to Earth and you’re left with a romantic drama that lacks grit beneath the cinematic gloss.
From Zero to I Love You has obviously been a passion project for Writer/Director Doug Spearman who spent four and a half years filming it on a tight budget. As a testament to perseverance and determination it stands as a real achievement. You don’t dedicate all that time and effort to a project you don’t passionately believe in. While you won’t notice the long production period when you’re watching it (well done to the continuity team) the film feels dated from the word go. While Spearman throws a variety of twists into the mix, it all feels a bit forced and predictable.
Ultimately, it’s hard to like Jack or feel a great deal of sympathy for his plight. The tension between his love and duty to his family, and his sexuality never really has any sense of weight to it. Meanwhile Pete’s personal trials are given less screen time and feel more organic and interesting. As a romantic couple they left me cold.
In trying to give us a gay twist on great film romances, From Zero to I Love You doesn’t manage to hit the high mark its aiming for and ends up serving melodrama. As a labour of love, this romance feels more laboured than anything else.
By Chad Armstrong
From Zero to I Love You played Outfest Los Angeles in July and BFI Flare London LGBTQ Film Festival in March 2019.