'Starstruck' Is the Delightful and Hilarious New HBO Rom-Com That's Ridiculously Easy to Binge
Starring New Zealand comedian Rose Matafeo, the supremely charming London-set series riffs on 'Notting Hill' — and it has already been renewed for a second season.
June 24, 2021
When a film or TV show is crafted with a deep-seated love for its chosen genre, it shows. When it wants to do more than just nod and wink at greats gone by like a big on-screen super fan — when its creators passionately hope that it might become a classic in its own right, rather than a mere imitation of better titles — that comes through, too. That's the case with Starstruck. Across the new sitcom's six-episode first season, it takes Notting Hill's premise, gives it a 22-years-later update and delivers a smart, sidesplittingly funny and all-round charming rom-com. It also features series creator and star Rose Matafeo enjoying a morning-after stride of pride to the sounds of 90s hit 'Return of the Mack', which is instantly as delightful as it sounds.
When she last graced our screens, Matafeo took on pregnancy-centric rom-coms in 2020's similarly winsome Baby Done. There, she helped slice through the typical on-screen rhetoric that usually surrounds motherhood, playing a professional arborist who is so far from thrilled when she finds out she's expecting that she keeps living her tree-climbing life in complete denial. The New Zealand comedian wasn't just plucky and relatable in the film; she ensured that her character was always the sum of both clear strengths and overt struggles. The jump from that engaging and thoughtful performance to Starstruck's Jessie is an easy one, but that doesn't mean that the vibrant Matafeo is merely doing the same thing twice.
A 28-year-old New Zealander in London who splits her time between working in a cinema and nannying, Jessie isn't expecting much when her best friend and roommate Kate (Emma Sidi, Pls Like) drags her out to a bar on New Year's Eve. And, for most of the evening, her lack of enthusiasm proves astute. Then she meets Tom (Nikesh Patel, Four Weddings and a Funeral). He overhears her rambling drunkenly to herself in the men's bathroom, they chat at the bar and, when sparks fly, she ends up back at his sprawling flat. It isn't until the next morning, however — when she sees a poster adorned with his face leaning against his living room wall — that she realises that he's actually one of the biggest movie stars in the world.
Jessie is never just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her. While she likes Tom, she's also initially content that they've had their night together and now their lives will follow separate paths — "he can't take it back!" she tells Kate. But Jessie unexpectedly keeps bumping into Tom, and their attraction keeps bubbling. He's still ridiculously famous, she still isn't, and that places more than a few obstacles in their way. When she leaves after their first night together, the paparazzi mistake her for a cleaner. When he meets her friends, they all take the show's title as literally as anyone can. As the duo navigate all the baggage that comes with his job and her unwillingness to swoon over said job, Starstruck pairs the fairytale of hooking up with a celebrity with the all-too-relatable awkwardness that can come after spending a night with anyone — and it finds the perfect balance.
With impeccable timing a given thanks to her stand-up background, Matafeo is a force of nature as Jessie; as in Baby Done, the comedian plays a strong, confident twentysomething who doesn't always know what she wants, and doesn't always make the best decisions, but owns her choices, emotions and mistakes because they're hers. Patel, jumping into Hugh Grant's back catalogue again after his aforementioned role in the recent Four Weddings and a Funeral TV remake, is just as engaging as Tom — who he plays with charm but never arrogance, and also with a healthy scepticism about the trappings of being a well-known actor.
Also stellar: the constantly hilarious script by Matafeo and fellow comedian Alice Snedden, the light and buoyant direction by Obvious Child screenwriter and Yes, God, Yes writer/director Karen Maine, and the love of both cinema in general and rom-coms specifically that's baked into every frame. Indeed, it's no wonder that HBO Max, which funded and aired the series in the US, renewed the series for a second season on the day that it debuted in America. Whenever that new batch of episodes lands, they'll also feature Minnie Driver (with the About a Boy star first popping up in season one as Tom's agent) and Russell Tovey (Years and Years). For now, though, ABC iView in Australia also knows that viewers will want more Starstruck instantly, with the entire first season available to stream in one go.
Check out the trailer for Starstruck below:
Images: Mark Johnson/HBO Max.
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