Blake Conway is not the kind of girl you make a movie about. At least, so says The New Romantic star Jessica Barden, who plays her. A fumbling 20-something on the cusp of her college graduation, Blake has a liberal arts education and a backlog of student debt. She prefers staying in over going to parties. She writes a sex column, but has no sex. And she fantasizes about great love stories, fully knowing that her generation has effectively killed romance. To put it bluntly: Blake is hopelessly, exasperatingly ordinary.
It is exactly this that thrusts her into the not-so-wild world of being a sugar baby. After a chance encounter with a well-connected classmate, she starts sleeping with a wealthy professor in the hopes that it will yield the material she needs to both reinvigorate her staling column and win the $50,000 prize in a gonzo journalism contest. What follows is not quite the anti rom-com tale of, say, (500) Days of Summer, but it's not The Notebook, either. And that, Barden tells Bustle, is why it matters.
"There shouldn’t be just one idea of a romantic comedy. Not everybody is gonna relate to Titanic, because not everybody wants that type of a romance in their lives," she says, speaking over the phone. "You usually wouldn't find somebody like Blake interesting to make a film about, but it’s important that those characters are seen."
Blake is also quite antithetical to Barden's most recognizable role: smart-alecky 17-year-old Alyssa in Netflix's The End of the F*cking World. Both are young, restless women struggling to discern their place in a world far too interested in dictating who they can and cannot be, but whereas Alyssa is rebellious, bullheaded, and brazen, Blake is soft and unsure. That dichotomy, for Barden, was very deliberate.
"I actually filmed this quite soon after The End of the F*cking World, and it worked out really great for me as an actress to go and play the complete opposite, because as much as it’s really important to show women being really strong, it’s equally important to show them feeling weak," Barden says. "Men have always been able to portray these flawed characters who are alcoholics or sex addicts or things like that, and that still doesn't exist for women ... so I hope the industry keeps pushing for roles that aren't just the girlfriend or a best friend or somebody's daughter."
The New Romantic doesn't upend those tropes entirely — like Blake, it's more interested in being relatable than it is radical — but it certainly expands how women are seen. This is a movie for the wallflowers, the introverts — and not the ones forced into getting an extreme makeover just so they can fall in love.
"I doubt myself a lot like Blake, and I worry about being boring," Barden says. "But you don't have to be the loudest person in the room or the most interesting. You're still a person and you still deserve to have a story."
In the end, Blake gets a guy, but likely not the guy. There's no scandal or grand gesture or seismic final lesson. Instead, her life just sort of...happens. And ironically, that's what makes The New Romantic — in theaters on Nov. 9 and out on Digital and VOD on Nov. 13 — so revolutionary.