Little Italy

Little Italy
Little Italy
Directed by Donald Petrie
Starring Hayden Christensen, Emma Roberts, Andrea Martin, Jane Seymour, Alyssa Milano and Danny Aiello
Available on UK Digital Download March 11th, 2019

by Richard Hamer

I have five pages of notes, and none of them are good, so let’s get quickly to the point: Little Italy is not a good movie. A romantic comedy in the most tragically dated mode, it stars Hayden Christensen and Emma Roberts as Leo and Nikki, childhood sweethearts growing up on the cloistered, cobbled streets of Little Italy, the heirs to their families’ respective pizza restaurants. But success separates them: Nikki leaves for a New York culinary school, and Leo stays behind to toil in his father’s kitchen. Fast forward ten years, and Nikki returns to a changed Little Italy: Their families are now bitter rivals, and while her love for Leo has not changed, it is a love that must remain hidden at all costs.

The problems with Little Italy start with its main cast, and go on from there: Christensen and Roberts have virtually negative chemistry, saddled with the unfortunate task of trying to sell a romance in a movie that has no interest in explaining what it is they see in each other. Little Italy begins with a love already fully formed: It’s less a romance, more the story of two people who want to jump each other’s bones from the get-go, but are consistently cock-blocked by the most implausible of circumstances.

At its heart, Little Italy is a Romeo & Juliet style tale of star-crossed lovers, except in this case the rival families are two Italian restaurants, populated by such impossible stereotypes of Italian-Americans you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a parody. Green, white and red cover every surface; opera booms from every kitchen, every street corner; EVERYONE SHOUTS AT EACH OTHER ALL OF THE TIME because of the red-hot mediterranean passion that flows through their veins. Little Italy is a singularly annoying experience; its every shot, every directorial choice – from Christensen’s unnerving jet-black hair to the way he has a traditional clay pizza oven in his apartment – like an idiot with a loud-speaker is shouting ‘you are in Little Italy’ directly into your face for ninety minutes.

The production of Little Italy is cheap and dated, from the lighting to the sets to its very… traditional approach to writing comedy involving anyone who is not straight, white and American. In fact, anyone unfamiliar with the central cast would have to assume this movie was at least twenty-five years old: Little Italy features two gay characters (one of whom has less than a minute of screen time), who – naturally, for what choice do they have – fall in love instantly upon seeing each other. The town’s two sole Indian inhabitants are of course also destined to be together, but not until they have at various points been referred to as ‘Slumdog’ and ‘Aladdin’, mentioned Mumbai in every line of dialogue they speak (lest you forget where it is they come from), and one of them has promised – in a sexual frenzy – to show an old lady his ‘Indian rope trick’. I literally had to keep checking the press release for this movie to make sure this wasn’t some obscure, mid-90s VHS atrocity – unwisely remastered – and not an actual cinematic movie produced in the actual year 2018.

When it’s not being boringly offensive, Little Italy is just lazy: Endlessly, crushingly lazy. At least half the cast are experienced chefs, yet – unwilling to do even the modicum of research – the writers have them spouting the weirdest, vaguest generalisations about their craft: Little Italy posits a world where any pizza other than Margarita is sacrilege, and the notion of ‘figs’ as an ingredient is radical enough, dangerous enough, that it must be hidden from the entire family. And what does one even do when designing menus for a New York restaurant? Just assemble a bunch of clip-art in Microsoft Publisher, says the writer, with a bored, tired shrug.

Little Italy is a movie so lazy it can’t even be bothered to decide where it’s set. Where is this Little Italy? ‘Canada!’ says everyone, as if Canada was a small town young people struggle to escape from. For the record, it’s clearly filmed in Toronto, set nowhere in particular, its cast directed to perform with the most hysterical of New York, Italian-American accents: Little Italy is a movie that simply does not care; about its setting, its characters, their motivations or their lives.

There is little to recommend here, save for a romantic sub-plot fronted by the ever-charming Danny Aiello and Andrea Martin, as two family elders hiding their own secret affair. Their story – of how the family rivalry is denying them one last chance for happiness – has a chemistry and (nearly, almost) a pathos absent from the rest of the picture. There is also a good cameo from Jane Seymour as a New York restaurant owner, in the only ridiculous performance in a movie full of ridiculous performances that isn’t on some level offensive.

But that’s not enough to save it. If 2018 proved anything, it’s that the romantic-comedy does have a future. The likes of Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I Loved Before and Set It Up have all been huge successes, in part because in their own imperfect ways, they represent a modern idea of romance: One of complicated people in a complicated world. A romance of equals, where love does not save you unless you save yourself first.

Little Italy is none of these things: It’s a charmless, HD-upscaling of the past’s most atrocious romantic comedy sins, and in the past is where it belongs.



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