Falling Inn Love felt like a Romantic Comedy with an extended infomercial tie-in for New Zealand tourism, and I liked the infomercial part best. Look, Netflix has put out some truly endearing romantic comedies (see: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Always Be My Maybe) and some truly questionable ones (see: The Kissing Booth and Sierra Burgess Is A Loser). Falling Inn Love (as its punny name suggests) is, in my opinion, more a middle-of-the-pack contender that borrows from a Hallmark Channel style. (It should be noted that Hallmark movies are not my preferred sub-genre of Romantic Comedy. If they’re yours, please take my notes here with all the necessary grains of salt.) Like a lot of those movies, this is not a movie that believes in the power of subtlety. In fact, midway through, people use sledgehammers to demolish a wall, and it was a good analogy for the whole movie.
In the first few minutes, we learn that our heroine, Gabriela Diaz (Christina Milian), is a hard-working, environmentally conscious city-girl. The closest she gets to the country is riding a stationary exercise bike while wearing VR goggles. (The VR goggles are made by a New Zealand company even though, at this point, she is supposed to be in San Francisco and to know nothing about New Zealand. Another kind of virtual reality.) She has a distracted, somewhat controlling, commitment-phobic boyfriend, a job (doing what exactly what is murky at best), and a best friend who is plain in the way that best friends in romantic comedies are always plain and says things like, “Trust me, girl. Ultimatum.” Gabriela goes to work on the day of her Big Presentation™, which is about eco-friendly housing, only to find that her boss, Chad, has changed the time. Gabriela finds this, understandably, very disappointing. When Chad and his gaggle of tech bros walk into the conference room he is saying something obnoxious, to which the bros laugh and coo, “Chaaaad,” in unison. I have no reason for telling you this, except that I snorted, and it was one of a handful of similarly funny and on-point moments in the movie. I wish there had been more of them and fewer outsized attempts at physical comedy. There is the required scene with her best friend where they talk throughout a yoga class, which is taught by the tensest yoga teacher ever. Then, KERBLAMMO!—her company goes belly up (maybe because they didn’t take her advice?), she breaks up with her boyfriend, and she drunkenly enters a random essay contest to “Win-an-Inn in New Zealand.” What kind of email doesn’t send this directly to her Spam folder? Also, I’m not sure what supposedly tech-savvy person, even if that person is in the drunk and mopey break-up part of a Romantic Comedy, gives their credit card information to a contest website that looks like it was designed in the early 2000s. Need I even say that you should never do this?!? Anyway, she wins! (I want to be so competent that I can write a winning essay when I’m near blackout drunk.) And she immediately flies to New Zealand—was the flight included?—where she has to take three buses to reach the small town of Beechwood Downs. It is in the country. Drama!
In the midst of trying to find a phone signal on a dirt road while wearing high-heeled boots (of course), her suitcase rolls into the truck of Jake Taylor (Adam Demos, whom you can see shirtless a lot on UnReal), a local carpenter who is the Only Hot Guy In Town and also very Emotionally Unavailable. He is also supposed to very much be from New Zealand, but speaks with a 100% Autstralian accent. Were there no attractive Kiwi actors available? I would have taken Jermaine Clement, but that’s a personal preference that is probably not for everyone. His accent remains an unaddressed and unsolved mystery, but not really because Adam Demos is Australian and I think it is assumed that most people won’t be able to tell the difference. There is a lot of work in their first meeting to make it clear that she does not like him one little bit. (Actually, there is a lot of work in most of Christina Milian’s representation of Gabriela. She tends toward outsized facial expressions, loud sighs, and, generally, speaking her thoughts and emotions, rather than showing them. It’s a problem for me in a lot of Hallmark movies.) But I do love that Milian is 38 and has a lead role in a Romantic Comedy. (I say: Hell yes, to women over 35—or even, gasp 40—getting these roles!!) There is not a lot of work done to make it clear why she doesn’t like him—especially since it is immediately obvious that Jake is way nicer than the boyfriend she stayed with for two years without realizing he was a controlling ass. But, of course, she has to not like Jake in order for the rest of the movie to work. When she finally makes it to town, she stumbles into the local coffee house-restaurant-gathering spot run by a spunky gay couple who, throughout the movie, appear to only wait on tables together. This seems highly inefficient, but maybe it’s a New Zealand custom?
When she finally makes it to The Inn, she is shocked to find that it is in total disarray and not at all like the pictures online. I am surprised to find that no one is lying in wait to harvest her organs. Inside, she finds a goat in a closet. Sorry, I should clarify that the goat is very much alive and healthy, just in case you thought this movie took a darker turn. There is no explanation of how a goat closed itself in a closet. The goat’s name is Gilbert and he is my very favorite character. According to IMDB, he is played by two goats named Annabel and Mia, which is interesting because I kept having to remind myself that Gilbert was a he. Throughout the movie, Gilbert keeps sneaking up on Gabriela—which often makes her scream and fall off of something, which I could have done with significantly less of, and, yes, I am a person who likes slapstick comedy in general—but let me say from years of experience that a buck’s odor, at least in breeding season, precedes his presence in a way that would make sneaking difficult. Anyway, Gabriela falls madly in love with goat husbandry, realizes her true dream is to have a goat farm in the wilds of New Zealand, and so ditches the Inn, finds Gilbert a mate, and makes goats’ milk soap that she sells to the cafe owners.
No!! Of course that’s not what happens.
Instead, along with the cafe owners, Gabriela meets a rival innkeeper, a hardware store owner (to whom she immediately gives a nickname, which irks me to no end), and a plant nursery owner (who immediately becomes her new best friend, a development I kind of like), all of whom, except for the innkeeper (see: rival), take her in as part of their community. This plays out very sweetly when Gabriela comes down with a cold. In fact, all of the locals are quite charming, if sometimes contrived. Can Netflix make a movie about them next? I would watch it.
Meanwhile, Gabriela and Jake end up renovating the Inn together although they are Opposite In Every Way and Don’t Get Along because she wants to make it all eco-friendly and he wants to preserve the original elements of the house…and these two positions are absolutely mutually exclusive ways of thinking? (They are definitely not.) They have a moment over grout that is like a G-rated version of Ghost. I read a few things about how Milian and Demos have a lot of chemistry, but I felt more like Demos had a lot of chemistry. Period. His character is understated and appealing. I know I had a lot of chemistry with him in the one scene (this movie is fairly chaste, as are most Hallmark movies) when he removed his sweaty shirt. When Gabriela stumbles upon him shirtless, she stage-whispers, “Wow,” as if it weren’t sPECtacularly and ABsolutely (I’ve got puns, too!) obvious that she, along with most humans who are attracted to the male body, would be impressed.
The movie is not without its charms. New Zealand itself is gorgeous. In addition to the aforementioned townspeople, there are also quite a few uses of the Maori language, a brief education on New Zealand flora, and a Haka demonstration. When I mentioned this to my husband, who did not watch the movie, he asked if it was just tokenism, and, well, fucking fuck, I’m not entirely sure and I’m probably not the person who should be making that call anyway, but I felt like it was an honest attempt to give a more rounded, inclusive picture of New Zealand. Plus, it made me look up the Kawakawa tree and the Kereru bird. Plus, Blair Strang, who plays one of the cafe owners, is Maori and starred in a television drama on a government funded channel whose aim is to revitalize Maori language and culture, so his contribution feels earnest. And all this seems better than presenting a whitewashed version of New Zealand.
Other entertaining parts include when Gabriela makes a Princess Bride reference and when Shelley, the plant nursery owner, makes a joke about manure. There is an adorable, if bizarrely slapped in, moment of car dancing. There is a radio program about bees called Buzzworthy. There is, of course, a dig about Hobbits. Do I need to point out that if you don’t like puns this movie is definitely not for you? There are also a few moments when Christina Milian’s Gabriela isn’t working so hard to show us everything, and her character is mostly likeable. There is a goat named Gilbert. Have I mentioned Gilbert?
I know it will rock your world to learn that in the end things work out just fine for everyone, including Gilbert, which is all that really matters to me anyway. But even in the final moments, Gabriela works so hard to verbally clarify the glaringly obvious that I was too busy rolling my eyes to feel any sort of romantical emotions during the—spoiler alert—final kiss. Or maybe I was just too busy tracking down facts about Gilbert’s breed.