Love in the Villa review – immediately forgettable Netflix romcom

The Vampire Diaries’s Kat Graham and Umbrella Academy’s Tom Hopper star in a passable, if not particularly sizzling, romcom set in Verona

The Netflix confection Love in the Villa invokes two well-established traditions. There’s the general romcom formula – two characters at odds, a meet-cute, a deception/reveal, an epiphany, a repeated inside joke, someone running somewhere in a time crunch. And then there’s the manufactured flavors of Netflix comfort food: recognizable B-to-C-list talent, cheesy locale, banal Twitter-inflected jokes, distinctively cheap-looking production, passable but not particularly invigorating chemistry. Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, Love in the Villa combines both into another ephemeral confection off the streaming assembly line – inoffensive and baseline pleasurable yet immediately forgettable.

The hook here is that the central couple, played by The Vampire Diaries’s Kat Graham and Umbrella Academy’s Tom Hopper, meet in picturesque Verona – as corny a romantic location as it gets but excellent eye candy during the twilight of a summer in which seemingly every celebrity visited Italy. Verona is, of course, the setting of Romeo and Juliet or, as Graham’s Julie tells her classroom of third-grade students, “the most romantic and tragic love story of all time”. True to form, Julie is a hopeless overachieving romantic dialed up to 11 – she dreams of seeing Juliet’s balcony in Verona, she laminates her travel plans and designates 7% of vacation time for “spontaneity”.

When Brandon (Raymond Ablack), her boyfriend of four years who somehow seems surprised by her neuroticism, dumps her on the eve of their Verona holiday, Julie proceeds solo. She endures a flight from hell, lost luggage and a reckless cab driver who nearly crashes while trying to hand out his mom’s cannoli from the front seat (this film is perhaps a little rude to Italians). Supposedly worst of all, Julie enters her private villa to find a tall, shirtless, very fit British man drinking red wine; the villa has been accidentally double-booked. Hopper’s Charlie, a wine importer, insists on staying in “la villa romantica” for the course of Vinitaly, a real conference for wine professionals, much to Julie’s chagrin, though it’s unclear how this development could be considered anything other than fortuitous for her.

Thus begins a silly war over the villa, in which the illusion that these two very attractive people can’t stand each other never clears the bar of convincing. (On the note of illusions, it’s impressive that for a decent stretch of the movie, the costume designers make the luminous Graham look frumpy in gift-shop clothing.) Julie is stubborn and relishes conflict. Charlie is pretentious and closed-off – “I’m British, so I don’t do overt displays of emotion, OK?” he says, encouraging Julie to lock her feelings in a box.

Love in the Villa seems to aim for Mr and Mrs Smith levels of erotic hate, but despite Hooper and Graham’s commitment to seeming genuinely embittered, the conflict barely reaches a simmer. What you do get is a modestly entertaining escalation of deranged things to do to a near-stranger – releasing cats on someone with a severe allergy, calling the cops, a food fight that doubles as an excuse to name-drop some Italian cheese. (Hopper and Graham, at least, appear to have had fun with throwing pasta.)

The leads’ gameness translates into appealing performances, which achieve enough charm to carry through several unnecessary delays to the inevitable (there is no reason why Love in the Villa is closer to 2 hours than 90min). Graham, in particular, imbues Julie with a surprising combo of wholesome midwestern sweetness (she’s from Minnesota) and devilish competitiveness. It’s somewhat refreshing to see a classic type-A romcom heroine like Julie not fall into the stereotype of the over-ambitious girlboss; she’s perfectly happy teaching elementary school and encouraging young children to fall in love with books, which she justifiably sees as a fulfilling career.

But as with any travel love affair, the moderate spell breaks with the intrusion of normality, in the form of their former love interests (Charlie’s is played by Hopper’s real-life wife, Laura). Their obliviousness to Charlie and Julie’s connection is so absurd as to deflate any remaining tension. At that point, better to skip to the too-protracted resolution with its numerous invocations of Romeo and Juliet, which wink at the corniness while fully indulging it.

Charlie may try to cut it with dry asides, but that earnestness is straightforward and guileless. Love in the Villa is feel-good, not try-hard. Nothing ever rises to the level of unwatchable, but nothing has any distinctive staying power, either – you may catch the whiff of romance here and there, like passing by a bakery storefront, which constitute the most alluring shots of the movie. If anything, the film is an effective mass-market ad for Italian tourism – fresh produce, a steady flow of wine, rose-gold sunlight on terracotta roofs, two seconds of Venchi promo. Literally and figuratively, Love in the Villa captures a tourist gift shop – a thing to peruse, maybe enjoy (ironically or earnestly, often both) and then move on.

  • Love in the Villa is now available on Netflix


Adrian Horton

The GuardianTramp

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