‘How To Date Billy Walsh’ Review: Can The Teen Rom-Com Thrive Simply By The Charm Of Its Leads?


The other day, I was listing my favorite rom-coms to a friend who had seen just one of the many. This had me thinking that the rom-com always needs defense. No, don’t come at me with the problematic details; I know them well as someone who will hunt down the usual suspects, during that time of the month, just for a happily ever after. For a long time, nothing was more satisfying than watching two beautiful white people come together after a dramatic battle with themselves. Insipid, cringeworthy, cliched, tired, too heterosexual, and offensive are all words critics (mostly men) will use to describe a rom-com. I agree. They’re all those things, but they’re also an escape into a fantasy world where happy endings are possible, and as unreal as it may seem, watching those two people who maybe hated each other, were best friends to begin with, or simply got together by accident, share their love in a final embrace is so awe-inspiring that it leaves you in (almost) tears. That was a mouthful, but what can I say? They’ve got a special place in my heart. It’s a well-known fact that the rom-com was deceased in the late 2000s, traded out for whatever masculine homoerotic heteronormative action film…I only kid. However, with the popularity of the OTT platform came the rise and glory of teen romances like never before. High School Musical still remains my favorite, and if you’re going to think I’m either too old or too young, maybe I am. 

I suppose what the teen-rom does is use the tropes of an adult romance but make it teenage-friendly, an aspirational stepping stone before the big leagues, which don’t show up anymore. Recently, everyone and their dad has been screaming about a rom-com renaissance with Anyone But You, a Shakespeare adaptation for the modern day. When I first watched the film, I quite liked it. I surely had a good laugh, and I thought that was enough for me to say it was a good rom-com and call it a day. But the more I think about it, the more I would not consider a second watch. You’re wondering why I’m talking about everything under the sun but this film, but understand I’m only setting the tone here in defense of How to Date Bily Walsh. The film is a formulaic British rom-com that follows the classic best friends-to-lovers trope to the T, and yet I found it rather nuanced and hilarious. Maybe it’s my bias toward puns, but this film does a fantastic job of using the romantic comedy recipe and turning it on its own head. It’s unserious from the start and has quite the adult language, which catches you totally off guard but, at the same time, leaves you a little bit more intrigued. 

Here’s the thing: Archie and Amelia have been best friends since they were born. I mean, they were accidentally exchanged as babies, so their families became best friends from that day forward, and now they’re suddenly teens with hormones and feelings. Archie’s decided it’s their last year of school, so it’s time for him to tell Amelia how he truly feels about her. However, Billy Walsh, an American from Hollywood, shows up out of nowhere! How dare Billy! Amelia, aka Millie, makes it her mission to date Billy Walsh, and poor Archie has no choice but to watch his best friend ruin her life by dating the hot new guy in town. Or wait, is she ruining her life? Maybe watch the film, and you’ll find out. Before I get into the details, you must remember to take this movie very unseriously. The characters are a little bit superficial, and there is no real substance in the film as such; it’s quite OTT if you ask me (I’m sorry, I’m lame). 

For me, everything that’s come out in this genre of teen romance in the last 10 years has been below par. I’ve never immediately said I’ve liked something, though, after some time, I may have settled because I didn’t have a choice. Here, as I was watching How to Date Bily Walsh, I was telling my sister that I really liked this film. Again, there’s nothing new here, and there’s nothing special in the formula to make it extra sparkly, so why then did I like it so much? 

Well, for one, it’s possibly the star power that really got me in this one. Sebastian Croft plays a nerdy Archie, who is a glasses-wearing golden retriever of charm from start to finish. There’s a running joke between me and my sister where we call him our “Bash” friend because that’s what the Heartstopper cast calls him. Ironically, he went from the bully in that show to the bullied in this film. But seeing his interactions with the cast and the kind of person he is on set and behind the scenes left me intrigued by the actor despite his incredibly young age. Despite my obvious love for the kid, I was a little bit skeptical about him taking on a main role after playing a side character in Heartstopper, and man, oh man, was I wrong for that. He commands the screen as he breaks the fourth wall multiple times (in the classic 2000s rom-com way) in this film, making you feel like he’s in the room with you. I do wish we were “Bash” friends at this point, I suppose, but I digress. Starring as his best friend Amelia Brown (nah, please, you can’t tell me the name was unintentional), is Charithra Chandan of Bridgerton, fame. Despite being 5 years Sebastian’s senior, she manages to fit the role of a high schooler and has fantastic chemistry with him. My only issue is that sometimes she forgets it’s a comedy and goes into Bridgerton mode, acting with her eyebrows like a young Emilia Clarke in Me Before You. Third among the leads is Tanner Buchanan from He’s All That (which I never bothered watching), who plays the titular character, Billy Walsh. I guess he’s the most experienced of the three, being in Cobra Kai and all that, but the role in this is small, and we barely get to hear him talk. He’s only a glowing shadow in the distance, waiting to be spoken to or touched. The film is filled with cliche tropes, yet it subverts them by being self-aware, or at least really funny. 

There’s nothing visually striking about this film; it looks like your regular old English teen show or film, with private school uniforms, most scenes shot in canteens, and millennial teachers who make jokes with their students. However, I must admit I really like the choice of songs, specifically one in the climatic scene of the film, which will leave you quite nostalgic if you’re also an adult watching. I think, at the end of the day, I liked this movie because it delivered exactly what it set out to. I was never excited about it, despite it starring my bestie (just a joke), but I was still intrigued because it seems every day we get a new one of these trying to be better than the previous, or worse, just being AI-generated nonsense. If you asked me to choose between To All The Boys I Loved Before and How To Date Billy Walsh, I’d definitely choose the latter, only because it suits my palate more. If you bothered watching Upgraded on Prime, which came out a little while ago, I’d say this one would definitely make you laugh and smile just a little bit more. I can imagine this will not be to everyone’s taste, but for those who like a good laugh and unserious business, then this movie will definitely work for you. I don’t think How to Date Billy Walsh is extraordinary or a rom-com; it is still a high school romance, but it’s one that made me smile, so I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars. 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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