Little Italy – review (Netflix)

     Vince Campo (Gary Basaraba) and Sal Angioli (Adam Ferrara) are best friends and pizza makers in Little Italy, Toronto, Canada. Their children, Leo and Nikki are close friends. Nikki has a crush on Leo but never tells him. Leo and Nikki have always been competitive. Their fathers’ fall out over a pizza contest and end up in separate pizza restaurants. A teenage Nikki leaves and goes to London to train as a chef.

     Five years later, Nikki (Emma Roberts) is flourishing under the tutelage of the famous chef, Corinne (Jane Seymour). Corinne wants Nikki to be the head chef at a new restaurant she is opening, but she needs to change her student visa to a work visa. Nikki has to return to Canada to sort her visa out. 

      Nikki returns home but does not plan to be there long. Her family, especially her mother, Dora (Alyssa Milano) are excited about her return. Nikki returns a day early, meeting up with her close friend, Gina (Cristina Rosato) to catch up with gossip. She takes her to Luigi’s (Andrew Phung) bar, where Leo (Hayden Christensen) works. 

     Leo challenges her to a football match. Nikki initially refuses, saying it is raining and she is in heels. After a little goading, she takes the challenge. With the loser having to take a shot every time there is a goal, Nikki gets drunk and passes out in Leo’s lap. She wakes up in his bed naked. She cannot remember what happened. Leo winds her up a little, making her believe they slept together, but then tells her nothing happened. 

    Both Sal’s and Vince’s restaurants are failing, their feud hurting the businesses of the both of them, each trying to sabotage the others business. After Vince puts curry powder in Sal’s mother, Franca’s (Andrea Martin) tomato sauce, he gets them back by swapping their oregano for marijuana. Vince ends up getting arrested. 

     Franca and Vince’s father, Carlo (Danny Aiello) are secretly seeing one another. Franca worries about the sons finding out. Nikki goes to see Leo. She encounters Lisa, a flight attendant friend of Leo’s. She is not very nice. Nikki leaves him to her, but not before he invites her to dinner. 

    Sal and Vince continue to trade insults. Elsewhere, their parents meet clandestinely at a coffee shop. Sal and Dora have a party and Dora invites over Anthony (Daniel DeSanto) to meet Nikki. Nikki excuses herself and disappears to the bathroom. 

   Nikki goes to Leo’s for dinner and is impressed by his pizza. Carlo proposes to Franca in church. She does not answer him. Nikki and Leo dance on the roof, Nikki leaves before the situation gets amorous. Nikki and Franca talk of love. Leo gets advice from Carlo about love and is encouraged to pursue Nikki. 

   Carlo and Franca meet again in the coffee shop and Carlo convinces her of his love for her. She agrees to marry him. Leo takes Nikki out and shows her the Little Italy that she has forgotten. They get together. Nikki receives a call from Corinne and leaves. Carlo and Franca bring the family together to tell them that they are an item. 

    Leo insults Nikki in front of everybody after the warring fathers put them forward for the Little Italy annual pizza contest, the same contest that started their feud. Nikki is going back to London, but she tells Franca that she wants Leo. She sees Leo and tells him that she will compete with him for the best pizza. 

    They both bake great pizzas, but Leo is declared the winner. Leo tastes the pizza and realises that his pizza won because of Nikki’s sauce. He wants to call her to the stage but she has left for the airport. He chases after her and finds her at the airport. He proclaims his love for her and they get together. They open a pizzeria and it is a success. The end. 

    Little Italy is okay. As with most films I review, I tend to watch the film a second time as I write the review and it was not too painful a watch the second time around. It is not a great film by any means, mostly because the central pairing or Christensen and Roberts are miscast. Not because either one is particularly bad, though Christensen’s weird accent is jarring and Roberts’ has a talent for flattering to deceive, but it is the noticeable age disparity that is really unsettling. 

    Emma Roberts looks like a teenager even though she is nearly thirty. By contrast, Hayden Christensen, a man who had to suffer the barbs of a merciless fandom, when trying to breathe life in to George Lucas’ clunky script in Star Wars episode two – though he is brilliant in episode three, my personal favourite -, looks every one of his thirty-eight years, especially standing next to Roberts. They are meant to be close to the same age.

     Not only do they have that to contend with, the central love story is also outshone by Aiello’s Carlo and Martin’s Franca, as a couple finding love in their twilight years. Their story is much more organic and believable, with the two mature actors working their scenes wonderfully. 

    Unfairly perhaps, for this film, in particular, one of my favourite films of all time is another Italian-American set love story, the magical and brilliant Moonstruck. Little Italy suffers greatly in comparison, especially as the nature of the humour in both films is very similar.

That being said, the script for this film, by Steve Galluccio and Vinay Virmani, has some genuinely funny lines in it, delivered perfectly by a great cast of actors. Directed by Donald Petrie, the film looks nice enough, with a standard rom-com look and everything brightly lit.  

    It is a pity about the central pairing because they make the necessary suspension of disbelief needed for a rom-com difficult to achieve. Little Italy is a pleasant film and premise, with good performances all around that is, unfortunately, let down by poor casting. 


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