Hulu’s “Love in Fairhope” will make admirers of the romance genre weak in the knees.
The unscripted series (now streaming), executive produced by Reese Witherspoon, chronicles the love lives of five women in the quaint town of Fairhope, Alabama, a half-hour's drive from Mobile. Creator Lauren Weber (“The Hills: New Beginnings, "Shahs of Sunset"), struck by Cupid’s arrow for Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron rom-coms, longed to “take all the principles of (that) storytelling and make a real-life version of it,” she says.
“I'm hoping to redefine drama in unscripted (TV), because I think for so long we've seen drama in one way,” says Weber. “People don't have to be throwing drinks in each other’s face. Everything doesn’t have to be at a 10 to be dramatic. In love there are just so many range of emotions."
Weber says she asked the casts, "If you could star in a movie about yourself and if your life could be a movie inspired by your life, what role would you play?" While some reality TV is scripted or influenced by producers, "for the most part you're following people around in their daily life. This is the most heightened version of a blend that we've seen before." (She estimates about 60% of “Fairhope” is documentary, and the rest scripted.)
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Weber searched the Southern coast for a setting that rivaled a Nicholas Sparks movie. And just like in any good meet-cute, fate smiled upon her. “Right as I was about to head to Mississippi, someone said, ‘Just go have lunch in Fairhope.’”
And it was love at first sight. “It's just so magical when you pull in,” Weber says. “It's Spanish moss, and everybody looks like they're drinking from this fountain of youth. It's a real-life Hallmark movie.” Pair that with the intimacy of a town (population 23,859).
“So we started casting off of small-town movie archetypes,” she says. “We wanted to find the girl that had just moved back from a big city, and the girl (who) was in love with her best friend.”
Enter Abby Mannich, who’s recently returned to Fairhope after breaking up with her New York City beau. And Mya Jo Williams, who has a complicated relationship with her male best friend, Nick Defilippi. LaShoundra Young is separated from her husband, one of the town’s preachers. Claiborne Walsh is a spunky widow looking for companionship in her twilight years, and Olivia Ogletree is exploring a romance with her former classmate. Instead of on-camera interviews with the stars, narration by Heather Graham propels the storyline.
The cast has movie-star looks, and the men are often shirtless, showcasing their toned physiques.
“We wanted to enhance everything to feel a little more heightened, a little bit sexier, a little bit more romanticized,” says Weber. “So Nick probably wouldn't hop off a tractor that way, but he lives on a farm, and is always on a tractor.”
“Fairhope itself is a bit of a movie version of itself,” Weber admits. “The beach is an hour away, not down the street. So some of it is fictionalized in a movie sense, but the people themselves are just so wholesome.’”
There’s a scene in the finale that feels right out of the movies. One of the main characters dreams of moving to Miami, and leaves for the airport after the town’s annual ball (as if there are no other possible flights). As she ascends the escalator, she sees her love interest at the top. It's an intentional nod to the 1999 feature “Cruel Intentions” starring Witherspoon and her ex-husband Ryan Phillippe, says Weber.
The "Fairhope" couple has “always been in love with each other,” Weber says. “And sure, he's stumbled his way to her and said things like ‘I want you,’ but not in a way that a woman would obviously drop everything and leave for. So I think the reality is his feelings are real but the situation we thought heightened in that way would just be more provocative.”
Weber crosses her fingers for a second season of “Love in Fairhope” and says the town might even provide a happily ever after ending of her own. The producer ditched Los Angeles to move to the town and just happens to be single.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hulu's 'Love in Fairhope' marries reality, fantasy to 'redefine' genre