The recipe for the average romantic comedy is relatively simple.
Two people who meet-cute in the most magical or banal of circumstances whereby an immediate, irresistible connection is sparked, one which cannot, of course, be given into because of one major obstacle, or several, and which after some torturous will-they, won’t-they moments, and usually a mad dash to an airport/train station/major public event, find fulfilment and the expected happy-ever-after glow of love gone right.
It’s escapist, it’s delightful and it’s fantastical in a way that lightly touches us and provides some measure of reassurance that maybe reality, which leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to Cupid and his affairs of the heart, isn’t so dark and dismal, after all.
Rom-coms then are the light and brightness we often crave when the world shrinks to pin prick of light, and Astrological Guide For Broken Hearts (Guida astrologica per cuori infranti), set in Turin, rather fittingly since this is where this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is being hosted, is a perfect evocation of the form.
Centred on aspiring TV producer Alice Brassi (Claudia Gusmano), Astrological Guide For Broken Hearts is split over 12 episodes in two series, each instalment devoted to one of the star signs which are given their moment to shine, shining some light on a belief system that attracts either wholehearted devotion or snarky derision (or to be fair lighthearted interest that never actually impinges on that person’s life).
In this beautifully written show that hits all the right romantic marks without once feeling too fey or belaboured, with characters who actually feel like they might actually know a thing or two about real life, love is a tantalising prospect that sometimes finds realisation, sometimes does not, or which lands awkwardly, and suitably for a rom-com which can’t commit to a happy ending too early, somewhere in what proves to be a highly enjoyable middle.
For Alice, poor sweet Alice who’s brilliantly good at her job – one of the great pluses of Astrological Guide For Broken Hearts is that its female characters such as Alice or BFF Paola (Esther Elisha) are superlatively competent, prepossessed and able to spot an idiotic person or situation for what it is, which means they might make mistakes, because they are fallibly human, but they aren’t emotional fools – is the one in the Cupidian firing line, her heart tugged this way and that by new, smoulderingly handsome but kind boss, Davide Sardi (Michele Rosellio).
After a drunken night out in which Alice has to be given a lift home on the back of Davide’s motorbike, a program is borne from Alice’s everworking creative brain which will centre on helping contestants find love with one of twelve possible candidates, each of whom represent, naturally, of the astrological signs.
It’s a simple but genius level idea which Alice has taken, unconsciously, from her new budding friendship with sexually fluid Tiziano aka Tio (Lorenzo Adorni) who sweeps into her life one of her worst days following the decision of her ex, Carlo (Alberto Paradossi) to propose to new girlfriend Cristina (Lucrezia Bertini) very publicly and with little empathy for how Alice might be feeling.
What makes it all even worse is that both Carlo and Cristina work at DoraTV with Alice which means, of course, that she seems them every day, a proximity that creates its own awkwardness and uncertainties, but which also allows for a friendship with Carlo to continue (though it’s often strained and never really natural) and for one with Cristina to develop.
Complicated? Alice’s life is ridiculously so, and as the twelve engagingly delivered episodes play out, it becomes immediately obvious that it’s never really going to simplify in any way because light and frothy as Astrological Guide For Broken Hearts might often be, it’s always grounded, in a way that many rom-coms aren’t in a humanity that actually feels surprisingly real.
Granted, everyone is astonishingly beautiful or handsome – this, perhaps, can be explained by the fact that it’s TV and you’re legally obligated to be? – and the offices are huge and restaurants lavishly upmarket, but when it comes to the characters themselves, much of what happens rings true.
Or true enough that the show doesn’t succumb to the melodramatic tweeness that besets less well-made members of the rom-com genre.
Every single conversation makes sense, characters follow through as you’d expect them to – no narrative contrivances thank you that bend someone you’ve grown to know and love into weirdly unrecognisable shapes – and they can all, to varying degrees act like normal people who might get things wrong but are never stupid and who always, or mostly so, learn from their mistakes.
In other words, the characters in Astrological Guide For Broken Hearts are a relatably and groundedly human as it is possible for people in a rom-com to be, all of which means we have the escapist pleasure of love and romance playing out in its various forms while watching characters grapple with lovelorn frustrations, grief & loss, change of life dilemmas and the thousand-and-one messy situations that life seems to delight in throwing at us.
Its this marriage of magical and normalcy that makes Astrological Guide For Broken Hearts such a transcendent delight, helped by a protagonist who doesn’t need love because she’s so damn good at what she does – again having a female character who can well and truly stand on her two feet and just makes to the kind of mistakes common to us all is a refreshing delight – but who deserves it and who wants it, preferably with Davide.
Naturally enough, life is not that convenient and over the twelve episodes we see Davide and Alice come together and pull apart, hoping they’ll make across the line – it’s a com-com so the odds are good but you never know – all while Alice and Paola enjoy a brilliantly good friendship (it’s one of the highlights of the series), Alice goes from strength-to-strength in her career, people find or keep love and we get to luxuriate in the fact that while life can be dark at times, when it lights up, it’s a hell of bright and heartwarming show.