‘Love in the Villa’ review: Charming leads Kat Graham and Tom Hopper can’t save unfunny and cliché-ridden rom-com [D+]
Amidst the hundred million-dollar limited series and relentless stream of middling action flicks, it seems that Netflix does, in fact, seem to still have time to churn out the inoffensive rom-com fare that comprised so much of the streaming giant’s early original content. Their latest foray into the world of romantic comedies is Love in the Villa, starring Kat Graham and Tom Hopper as a pair of travelers who accidentally book the same scenic villa in Verona. From the bargain brand Home Alone prank montages to the flimsy characters, Love in the Villa is the type of trashy genre fare that will satisfy someone looking for a mindless way to spend a Saturday night, but that undoubtedly overstays its welcome with a runtime just shy of two hours long.
The film follows Julie (Graham), a Minnesota third-grade teacher who is on the eve of fulfilling her lifelong dream – taking a week-long trip to Verona with her longtime boyfriend (Raymond Ablack) when he unceremoniously dumps her just days before her so-called dream vacation. Heartbroken but determined to make the most of all her planning, Julie’s vacation goes from bad to worse when she finds out her stunning villa has been double-booked, and she’s forced to share the place with the cynical yet annoyingly handsome Charlie (Hopper). Though at first the two are constantly at each others throats, they eventually begin to build a shaky truce, and romance quickly blossoms.
As for as romantic comedy plots go, Love in the Villa’s very much falls under the category of “old reliable” – a tried and true ‘opposites attract’ formula, complete with the beautiful young American who believes in ‘true love’, and the icy, workaholic Brit who thinks there’s no such thing. But as bulletproof as such a basic formula may seem, Love in the Villa feels the need to flood a surprising majority of its runtime with painfully unfunny comedic bits that last far too long. Instead of dedicating most of its runtime to exploring Julie and Charlie’s slow-burn romance and peppering in comedic beats where appropriate, Love in the Villa goes all-in on the comedy, leaving the romance viewers are tuning in for on the back burner.
The film’s decision to place comedy over romance is especially unfortunate considering its two leads seem far better suited to the latter – though not entirely hopeless in the realm of comedy (there are, admittedly, a few genuinely funny moments, but they come far and few between), both Kat Graham and Tom Hopper have proven in past projects that they have sizable dramatic and romantic chops, the likes of which Love in the Villa dedicates almost no time to utilizing.
Instead, viewers are treated to cliché-ridden Italian hijinks: Julie being carted around Italy by a loud-mouthed aggressive driver touting the brilliance of his mother’s cannoli recipe, the two engaging in a bizarrely lengthy prank war which leads to several run-ins with local law enforcement, and a healthy dash of physical comedy that would be more at home in a Three Stooges bit. Why Love in the Villa would shoehorn its actors into such lengthy comedic bits when both performers are clearly more at home in the realm of drama and romance is a mystery, and the result is an unfunny romantic comedy that dedicates far too much time to bits that do little more than pad the run time.
That’s not to say that the romantic beats work when the film finally deigns to explore them, either – Julie (despite Graham’s inherent charm and remarkable sincerity) is a cookie-cutter romance protagonist, and is never truly explored beyond her infatuation with Verona: her personality traits are “Type-A,” “Romantic,” and “Likes Italy,” in that order. She does have a surprisingly moving recitation of Juliet’s ‘wherefore art thou Romeo’ monologue in the film’s last act, but even Kat Graham doing Shakespeare isn’t enough to breathe life or interest into such a cardboard cutout of a protagonist.
Hopper’s Charlie fares no better – even after the two have called a truce and resolve to make the most out of their time in Italy, he still retains an icy, elitist attitude that makes him difficult to root for as a romantic lead, especially when his entire character is built around his workaholic nature and refusal to let loose and enjoy himself. When that time finally does roll around, it feels unearned and far too late – resulting in a final romantic reconciliation that struggles to invoke any emotion beyond apathy.
Despite two impressive leads whose talent deserves far better than the likes of Netflix romcoms, the combined presence of Kat Graham and Tom Hopper alone isn’t enough to save Love in the Villa from its pitiful fate as one of Netflix’s weaker original films. Between its paper-thin characters, overindulgence in comedic beats and unnecessarily length runtime, Love in the Villa is an Italian rom-com that not even the Verona tourism board would give their stamp of approval.
Love in the Villa streams globally on Netflix September 1.