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‘Starstruck’ Proves There’s Life After Heartbreak

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the hopeless romantics among us all dream of the perfect meet-cute. Some crave the simple bookstore or coffee shop chance meeting, where your hands brush when reaching for the same book or you accidentally take each other’s orders. Others (myself included) dream of meet-cutes that are far more specific. Starstruck, (not to be confused with the Disney Channel Original movie of the same name and similar premise) created by Rose Matafeo, tells the story of Jessie (also played by Matafeo), a twenty-something woman who sleeps with movie star Tom Kapoor (Nikesh Patel) and gets a lot more than just a one-night stand out of the deal.

It would be easy to scoff at the idea of this show. If not done well, it could feel boring and repetitive. In a world of intense heartbreak, how can a show like Starstruck even begin to feel satisfying to watch? Even so, Matafeo and writing partners Alice Snedden and Nic Sampson have created a realistic and relatable world around a rather unlikely scenario, one I often find myself wanting to revisit. Starstruck was also recently renewed for season three, so clearly I’m not the only person drawn in by its charm. It’s a show I would recommend to just about anybody, but especially to my fellow romantic comedy lovers and anyone who would consider themselves pining hopelessly for hopeless romanticism.

However, the phrase “hopeless romantic” sometimes carries a negative connotation. There’s a certain level of naïveté to it: the hopeless romantic clings to completely unrealistic dreams and ideas. I don’t think either Jessie or Tom would self-apply this label, but the two are so drawn to each other that their love story scratches the exact itch that we hopeless romantics love.

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Nikesh Patel as Tom and Rose Matafeo as Jessie in Starstruck. (COURTESY: Mark Johnson/HBO Max)

Jessie and Tom hit it off right away and their quick rapport sets this rom-com off on the right foot. And who wouldn’t be charmed by an actor as handsome as Tom? (Bonus points if you’ve also been completely charmed by Patel in Mindy Kaling’s Four Weddings and a Funeral series on Hulu.) Jessie’s confusion over Tom seeming at all into her fuels their first interactions, and she even goes so far as to tell him that it makes no sense for him to like her.

Fueling Jessie’s reaction is her very real belief that the whole situation is too good to be true. She’s a normal person, unlike the other celebrities around whom Tom finds himself, and she’s a self-acknowledged hot mess to boot. It takes Jessie a moment to process her new reality – but everything about it is exactly why Tom is so drawn to Jessie in the first place. He enjoys her company, her quirks, and even spending time with her flatmate Kate (Emma Sidi) and their other friends. There is a part of Tom that wants a normal life, away from the glitz and glam of his industry. He embraces the moments of normalcy being with Jessie grants him, even going out of his way to spend time with Jessie when he doesn’t have to.

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Rose Matafeo as Jessie in Starstruck. (COURTESY: Mark Johnson/HBO Max)

Of course, even though Jessie and Tom care about each other, there are some real downsides to Tom’s life in the spotlight, which is exactly why I understand that though this is my dream meet-cute, it certainly isn’t for everyone. One of the things Starstruck excels at is not shying away from the real difficulties its main couple faces. Most of Jessie’s friends are rooting for her happiness, but quite a few people in Tom’s life would rather he not date Jessie at all. Chief among them is his agent, Cath (Minnie Driver), who on multiple occasions tells Tom to just with other actors since it makes things simpler. But Tom, ever strong-willed, is determined to make things work with Jessie and refuses to let any naysayers deter him from what his heart wants.

Also motivating both characters is the fact that neither Jessie nor Tom has had much luck with love. Starstruck Season 2 focuses partly on the aftermath of Jessie’s failed relationship with her ex, Ben (Edward Easton), and how it affects things with Tom. Ben broke Jessie’s heart; as a result, even though she really does care about Tom, Jessie finds herself somewhat closed off to Tom. Despite the difficulty of opening yourself up to someone new after being hurt by someone you thought you knew, Jessie in the end realizes what she feels for Tom is worth the risk of being hurt again.

Jessie also learns from Tom’s brother Vinay (Parth Thakerar) that Tom doesn’t really date; in fact, he’s only had a few girlfriends over the course of his adult life. And part of the impetus for Tom and Jessie’s hookup in Starstruck Season 1 was Tom’s recent break-up. Jessie’s conversation with Vinay is a wake-up call: though she’s been worried that Tom is merely looking for a good time with her (a worry made worse by his celebrity status and her aimlessness), Jessie realizes that her worries about Tom are unfounded.

Starstruck spends a lot of time and care showing that Jessie and Tom’s relationship can only survive if they themselves put in time and care into it. They clearly care about each other, but that’s not always enough – especially in a situation such as theirs. That said, we’re also afforded plenty of sweet and funny moments between the two of them. Most of their interactions highlight all the fun they have together and how even when they’re apart they’re thinking about each other, wanting to share details and little moments from their respective days. These are the details that make us root for Jessie and Tom and allow us to hope that, in the end, they’ll be okay.

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Nikesh Patel as Tom and Rose Matafeo as Jessie (COURTESY: Mark Johnson/HBO Max)

A recent piece by Bolu Babalola somewhat reframes the term “hopeless romantic” in a way that dovetails perfectly with Starstruck. It can be easy to assume a relationship like Jessie and Tom’s is doomed and to in turn wonder why you’d want to sit through a whole show about it. But there’s clearly a reason the two of them keep coming back to each other. Babalola suggests that believing in love even in a low moment is the exact opposite of hopelessness. Jessie and Tom don’t regret the time they’ve spent together because it’s helped shape them. And they both clearly appreciate the journey that brought them together, even if it was somewhat rocky. Theirs isn’t a hopeless outlook at all – it’s a hopeful one.

Starstruck accepts that growing pains don’t stop, even in intimate relationships. As we go through life, we’re all constantly changing and learning, and doing so affects those around us. One of the most powerful things a person can do is let themselves be open to love even after it feels like all hope is lost. (Nor does that necessarily mean romantic love; Starstruck experiments with this in Season 1, when Jessie grapples with loneliness and doubt over what she’s doing in London and decides she wants to move back to New Zealand.) What I love most about Starstruck is that we get to watch Jessie and Tom make mistakes in their own lives and their relationship with each other and neither stops them from loving each other. Though Jessie and Tom met in a scenario straight out of fanfiction, Starstruck takes the idea a step further, allowing us a glimpse into the blossoming reality of this out-of-the-ordinary situation.

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