Little Italy, 2018.
Directed by Donald Petrie.
Starring Emma Roberts, Hayden Christensen, Adam Ferrara, Gary Basaraba, Andrea Martin, Danny Aiello, Alyssa Milano, Linda Kash, Andrew Phung and Jane Seymour.
The offspring of a pair of warring pizzeria owners develop a romantic relationship when they are reunited after five years apart.
Donald Petrie has come full circle. 30 years after he made his directorial debut with Mystic Pizza, he’s back in the world of spinning dough and mozzarella for the bizarre romcom Little Italy. Combining the “oh yeah, I remember them!” appeal of both Hayden Christensen and Emma Roberts, it’s a movie that has a great time skimming through the standard tropes and conventions of its genre. It’s not reinventing the wheel in any way, and it’s more than a little flakey as a result, but it is certainly an enjoyable experience.
The poster for the film is a pretty clear litmus test for whether you’re going to enjoy it. With its bright primary colours and characters standing at impossibly jaunty angles due to the miracle of over-zealous Photoshop, it’s straight from the 1990s and 2000s school of thought that launched a million images of an unnaturally glossy Matthew McConaughey leaning on stuff. If you can get past the poster without vomiting, then you might be in for a fun ride.
With an introductory montage set to ‘Papa Loves Mambo’ – because stereotypes are fun – competing voice-overs from Nikki (Emma Roberts) Leo (Hayden Christensen) tell the story of their childhood growing up in the titular district of Toronto, as the offspring of a pair of pizzeria chefs. An unspecified spat between the two chefs would eventually create a fissure between the families, which played a part in Nikki’s decision to fly to London for culinary school. Five years on, she returns ahead of taking on a major opportunity in the UK. The feud has progressed “from crazy to batshit insane” and, meanwhile, her old friendship with Leo might be about to blossom into something more.
Anyone who has ever seen a movie will be able to predict the story of Little Italy almost beat for beat. It trades heavily in clichés and serves as essentially a checklist of the things you’d expect to see in a romcom, from platitude-drenched dialogue – “you can take the girl out of Little Italy…” – to an actual, unironic airport dash finale. This is a movie in which the statement “I’ve really enjoyed our tryst” actually leaves a character’s mouth, having presumably survived several script drafts. The mind boggles.
It’s important, then, to note that Roberts and Christensen actually have a reasonable amount of chemistry, beyond the fact they’re one of the more absurdly attractive romcom couples in recent memory. They’re admittedly easier to believe as best mates than they are as potential lovers, but the gentle antagonism between them provides some nice comic moments, with Roberts in particular on solid form. Christensen, too, is as smugly entertaining as he has ever been on screen, helped perhaps by the fact he never has to express strong feelings about sand.
There’s also fun to be had in the warring families, with special praise due to the two widower grandparents played by Andrea Martin and Danny Aiello. The moments involving those characters sparkle with comedic energy, as a stark contrast to the rather leaden scenes involving the actual pizza patriarchs, who have little to offer beyond yelling and route one slapstick.
There’s nothing that’s new in Little Italy and it often seems like the film has undergone some bizarre sort of quantum leap from a time a few decades ago when movies like this reigned supreme. It’s generic and unimaginative, with dialogue that a community theatre group would reject as too clunky. With all that said, though, Petrie has delivered a warm and likeable film that will pass a night in front of the TV with friends, as long as someone is willing to order in a good, authentically Italian pizza.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.