Please note: This review is based on the movie adaptation only. I have no prior knowledge of the book.
Even if you appropriately adjust your expectations for Love and Gelato to be a just passable coming-of-age, rom-com adjacent movie, it’s still kinda a slog to watch. The acting is exhaustingly forced. The characters are barely able to whip up believable chemistry with the purportedly orgasmically good pastries, let alone with other actual human beings. Practically no one is likeable—and there isn’t much to like or dislike anyway because they’re all so lightly sketched that a solid downpour could wash them away entirely. And the plot. Ay. The plot. It’s so full of holes that I’m not even sure that any actual plot remains. Yet, it takes approximately from the dawn of time until now for them to tell this mostly non-story story. How is that possible? That’s a real mind bending conundrum of this movie! But, of course, I’m the first to argue that there probably exists a time and place where watching (and kvetching about) Love and Gelato is exactly what you need. Or at least I do. As always, don’t let absolute mediocrity in movies ruin your glee.
However, I realize none of this answers what is perhaps your most burning question about a movie like this. So yes, rest assured that a goat will show up in the middle of an otherwise empty dirt road in rural Italy, causing someone to slam on the brakes and blessing us with a shot of said goat staring at us through a windshield. So the movie does have that going for it.
Love and Gelato begins with Lina Emerson (Susanna Skaggs) telling us about the extremely unique Italian saying her mother taught her, which is that “you never forget your first love.” Wow. How profound. Let that one sink in because I bet no one outside of Italy has ever heard it until now. Shortly before Lina’s mother dies of cancer, she lays down some hard and fast rules: 1. No one can be sad and everyone must wear Pumpkin Spice, her favorite color, to her funeral, where, 2. Fleetwood Mac must be played. And, 3. Lina must take the post-graduation trip they’d been planning to Rome. Alone. To find herself. Because, it turns out, her mother went to Rome when she was a young woman and she had some Very Life Changing Experiences, so now she thinks Lina should go and do the same, but she won’t tell her why or how. (And it always works out well to impose your own life changing experiences onto your children.) Mind you, Lina’s mother never talked about her time in Rome AT ALL until just before she died, which sounds like a super healthy life choice. Lina is less than sure about this plan because, as we learn through some VERY clunky dialogue between Lina and her best friend Addie (Anjelika Washington), she’s not interested in anything except studying and getting ready to go to MIT in the fall. She doesn’t do social media or parties or boys, but she does do statistics about ways you could die in plane crashes and such. Plus, you know, her mom just died and she has no other family. Minor hiccups.
But, like the dutiful rule follower that she is, Lina goes off to Rome as planned where she meets her mother’s long lost pal, Francesca (Valentina Lodovini), who is wild and free and doesn’t appear to believe in traffic laws. (Absolutely no stereotypes there.) Almost immediately she insists that Lina “lose those glasses.” So that’s fun because it’s the year 2022 and we still get to have lines in movies casually asserting that glasses, which, you know, HELP PEOPLE SEE, make women less attractive and are therefore icky. (Sigh. Sing it in your tuneless best with me, friends: Fuck the PAY-TREE-ARE-KEEEEEE!) Francesca takes Lina straight to a party so she can meet some people her own age, by which I assume means guys her own age because we almost never see Lina speak to any Italian women under the age of 40. (Does Francesca not understand jet lag or how much someone would want to shower or change clothes after a transatlantic flight?) Mostly, though, Lina meets Howard (Owen McDonnell), one of the only characters worth a damn and with a Genetically Blessed Face, who is Francesca’s Irish cousin and clearly has a Very Important Past with Lina’s mother.
Then—because this plot holds together as well as cotton candy on a rainy day—while Lina is admiring some ruins and connecting with her mother, this guy shows up and starts chatting her up about her MIT sweatshirt. He introduces himself as Alessandro (Saul Nanni) and very not casually mentions that he’ll be studying at Harvard in the fall. Even though not one scene ago Lina was a confident, competent young woman who had zero time for dating, now she’s a tongue-tied, eyelash batting mess over Alessandro, who is so clearly a nogoodnik that you want to yank Lina right out of the movie. How can she not see all the red flags waving around him? It’s probably because she’s not wearing her glasses. Damn it, Francesca! (And also youth and inexperience, I suppose.)
Later, Alessandro, who is very busy sort of rebelling against his controlling father and being super wealthy, calls Lina—whose number he gets via a fake Instagram profile that her friend Addie set up without her knowledge or consent. (I mean, there is just so much going there that I don’t even know where to begin. So I won’t.) Alessandro invites Lina to the opera, which means we get treated to a whole scene of Francesca teaching Lina to walk in high heels. When Lina questions if it isn’t a little old-fashioned for her to need to wear heels, Francesca gives some speech about how it’s not about what’s on the outside, but having “grace, instinct, courage,” which, in this case, I guess can only be achieved by learning to walk in high heels? Be brave! Be strong! Be courageous! But make sure you fit the prescribed ideal of femininity while doing it! The patriarchy scores again! This makes about as much sense as when Lina is absolutely enraptured by the opera, so Alessandro grabs her hand and takes her away to play tag (not a euphemism, though I sincerely wish it were) in the off-limits areas of the opera house. I just.. And yes, at another point he does tell her that she’s different and she “makes him different.” And yes, it it did cause me to injure my nasal passages from snorting so hard.
On the way home from that fiasco she (literally) runs into Lorenzo (Tobia De Angelis), a mousey, humble, salt-of-the-earth aspiring chef who shows her a different side of Rome, including secret late-night pastries made by a skeptical, cranky older woman, which I am not mad about. It should be noted that Lorenzo and Alessandro used to be friends but have fallen out. (It’s probably Alessandro’s fault.) And there we have our lackluster love triangle of sorts. Meh. To the movie’s credit, there is much more emphasis on Lina finding herself than on romance, but they’re so wishy washy on what finding herself actually means that it all feels fairly empty.
Meanwhile, Lina is reading through the journal her mother kept while living in Italy, which helps her piece together parts of the past—kind of like a post-mortem scavenger hunt. Such fun! Most of it is glaringly obvious to us, which doesn’t necessarily bother me in principle, but the movie doesn’t even attempt to explain why Lina’s mother chose to keep her past a secret all those years or why her mother’s past love was thwarted or why she decided Lina needed to know all this right now.
Without that context the whole thing feels kind of cruel and empty. To send your grieving daughter to another continent to unravel the secrets of your and her past while completely alone and confused? Not to be overly dramatic, but it feels like a trial one of the Greek Gods would merrily lay out for one of their children. Speaking of Greek Gods, have I mentioned this movie feels epically long? But the scenery is very pretty. (Also not a euphemism.)