In Carly Stone’s feature debut The New Romantic, Jessica Barden plays a hopeless romantic who has given up on love. Known for her role as angsty teen Alyssa in the cult-favorite British dark comedy The End of the Fucking World, Barden takes on Stone’s unconventional romantic comedy as Blake Conway, a college senior who becomes a sugar baby for her campus sex column and a subsequent journalism award. As she documents her newfound journey as a sugar baby, Blake must contend with the trials and tribulations of modern romance—set against the proverbial backdrop of indie tunes and Nora Ephron references (in a particularly delightful scene, Barden exchanges dialogue with Jane the Virgin actor Brett Dier, who muses: “Who’s that? Zac Efron’s mom?).
Ahead of the film’s digital release on November 13th, I jumped on the phone with London-based Barden to discuss her role. And while her character Blake at one point declares in the film that both romance and chivalry are dead in the era of Tinder swiping, rest assured that the 26-year-old English actress does not share the same cynicism.
In the film, Blake’s introduction to transactional romance follows a chance encounter with fellow sugar baby Morgan, played by Riverdale’s Camila Mendes. Still, Barden contends that The New Romantic transcends its outlined subject matter. “I would say, in a way, this film isn’t about sugar babies. It’s about being young and how you want to explore that—getting out of your comfort zone,” she said.
More to that point, the film doesn’t seek to shame an unorthodox version of romance. “I think it’s really important, and I think that’s a good decision that Carly made,” said Barden. “Carly was encouraging us to look at the areas within the world of sugar babies—what the similarities are within regular relationships, which I thought was a very smart way of looking at it.”
The New Romantic comes at the heels of a resurgence of rom-coms. In June, Netflix released the endearing Zoey Deutch starrer Set It Up, and, in August, there was the Lana Condor hit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Let’s not forget the Constance Wu-led box-office success of Crazy Rich Asians, which served as a massive win for both the genre’s blockbuster revival and Asian representation. So what exactly contributed to a once-antiquated genre’s resurrection? Barden believes it’s the women, and the actress is ready for the genre’s reclamation by women.
Stone certainly seems to inhabit these same ideals in her feature debut, too—that ultimately, it’s about the women. In her director’s statement, she wrote: “This film, in its simplest form, is about a girl who wants to tell her story. Female voices speaking out is a complex, necessary and topical conversation. My biggest hopes for this film is that it contributes to that conversation.”
Watch a clip from The New Romantic below.
The New Romantic is available on digital now.