Like many young women before her, Jessie, slightly inebriated and decked out in shiny threads, hooks up with a hot guy on New Year’s Eve.
Waking up the next morning in his surprisingly nice and spacious London apartment, Jessie (Rose Matafeo) stumbles around and spots something strange – a movie poster half hidden under bubble wrap through which the face of her boink buddy is peeking out.
Tom (Nikesh Patel), it turns out, is an actor. Not just a jobbing actor who turned in a notable performance as Polonius in a community production of Hamlet. Tom is famous. Like mega-famous. The kind of famous that gets swarmed for selfies outside the pub.
And Jessie is really not. She’s “a little rat nobody” who works in a cinema and has a part-time nannying job, another 20-something New Zealander in London, unfocused and treading water.
So, how does a normie navigate the world of celebrity?
Starstruck may have a familiar premise – it’s a gender-reversed Notting Hill for the 21st century – but Kiwi comedian Rose Matafeo has infused the six-part rom-com she created, co-wrote and stars in with a witty sense of humour and a freshness, as well as a clear, deep love for the genre.
Matafeo, 29, started her career in stand-up and was a regular on the festival circuit, even going on to win Best Show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. That stand-up background serves her and co-writer Alice Snedden really well – Starstruck is super well-paced with a rhythm that never slackens.
Even though you could easily binge all six episodes in the time it takes to watch a movie, the series is also structured so you don’t have to.
The writing is sharp and smart, with a cast of supporting characters including Jessie’s roommate Kate (Emma Sidi) and workmate Joe (Joe Barnes) while the always fabulous Minnie Driver shows up in one episode as Tom’s bread-fearing agent.
The chemistry between every character is off-the-charts.
If there’s one quibble it’s that Tom is much less rounded out as a character by virtue of the fact that Starstruck is Jessie’s story, so the perspective that comes through is always hers – and he disappears from her life from time-to-time, off filming in Prague or whatever it is famous people do.
Jessie is a relatable, easy-to-root-for hero, sex positive (a “Return of the Mack” just-got-laid celebration dance is particularly winsome), unapologetically young and mainly carefree. She could be you or she could be your best friend.
There is never a moment when you don’t have a strong sense of who she is.
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Even when Jessie’s being a brat, there’s such an openness in Matafeo’s performance you can’t help but be on Jessie’s side. Matafeo has expanded into acting in the past few years and her winning screen presence – the charisma, the vulnerability – was already evident in 2020 Kiwi rom-com Baby Done.
Casting Patel as Tom is not only interesting in that he’s a British actor of South Asian heritage who has oodles of charm and talent, but he’s already played around in this genre sandbox in the Four Weddings and A Funeral reimagined miniseries.
With Matafeo’s half-Samoan background, the two romantic leads in Starstruck are from diverse backgrounds, and not even commented on, which is just another plus in a genre that so easily falls into cookie cutter instincts on every level.
Starstruck is in many was a classic rom-com with the ups and downs, missed moments and misunderstandings of a burgeoning courtship. But even with its roots anchored in the soil of what came before, it still feels very original – and completely essential.
Starstruck airs on ABC on Wednesdays from June 23 at 9pm, while all episodes will be available on iview from June 23
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