Excuse me, Netflix? But, how dare you!?! Those of us who enjoy mediocre rom-coms as our comfort watching—and I use the term mediocre only with the greatest love and affection—have some pretty exacting standards. And Love in the Villa? It’s an affront to the ENTIRE GENRE that we know and love. For shame, Netflix. For shame! Did I watch the entire thing anyway? Absolutely. But, only because I was watching with my dear partner in snark and streaming. And also there’s the small matter of the solemn oath I swore to the gods and goddesses of streaming to let no rom-com go half watched. Amen. You may think I’m being too hard on this movie, which was clearly put together with the aid of moldy ideas, green venom, and a hacksaw, but I’m most certainly not. I will say that the movie has decent acting (Kat Graham should keep getting rom-com lead roles). There are some sunsets. And it was filmed in Verona. So there’s that.
Julie Hutton (Kat Graham, who you should watch in The Holiday Calendar or even Operation Christmas Drop) is a third grade teacher who absolutely loves “Romeo and Juliet.” You know she loves it fiercely because when she finishes reading a passage aloud to her class (yes, really) she closes her eyes and heaves a contented sigh. Love doesn’t count in a movie like this unless you close your eyes and sigh.
The kids are less than impressed, but Julie needed some way to explain to them exactly why she’s so excited about her upcoming trip to Verona, Italy with her boyfriend Brandon (Raymond Ablack, certified Genetically Blessed Face you might know from Ginny and Georgia or Maid). Her fellow teacher, best friend, and token gay man (Sean Amsing) points out that she is a fan of “Romeo and Juliet” like “Kathy Bates in Misery was a fan.” And, friends, this is the one line in this movie that I like, and it’s also foreshadowing that this will be a horror show.
Onward! Rob is pretty sure that Brandon is going to propose, and you know what that means! That’s right!! Just as Julie is showing him her laminated perfectly scheduled itinerary to see all the Shakespearean sights and tours in fair Verona, Brandon dumps her. Wait. Can we back up? Because Brandon is surprised that Julie’s whole itinerary is scheduled down to the minute and laminated, which is ludicrous. He’s dating a third grade teacher who has free and easy access to a laminator and he’s surprised that she’s hyper-organized and laminates things? He should be glad he’s not laminated! I mean, if I had access to a laminator you can be damn sure I would laminate every single scrap of paper, you know, just in case. Anyway, at this point the movie still has potential. Kat Graham is charming and she and Raymond Ablack have a good back and forth going. Also, credit to the waiter in the scene, Mitchell Thomas Salm, for being funny.
After the breakup, Julie is torn as to whether she should still go to Verona. (Of course she’s still going.) But as her cursor is hovering over the cancel button on the House ‘n’ Host website, she happens to see the phrase love will find a way, which convinces her to keep her plans. (Heads up: we will be clobbered over the head with this phrase for the rest of the movie. Just give in now and get it cross-stitched on something because it’s going to be etched in your brain forever.) Her flight gets horribly delayed, wine spills on her ALL WHITE (just, no) traveling outfit, and her luggage gets lost, but she perseveres!
She buys herself some tacky tourist clothes at the airport gift shop (because she’s resourceful!) and instead of a taxi or an Uber she ends up taking a ride with a random guy named Uberto (Lorenzo Lazzarini), who, because this movie is absolutely rife with stereotypes, drives very fast while not paying attention to the road and offers her cannoli made by his mother. Also, was Julie raised in a fairytale? Who just gets in a car with a random man at the airport? The same person who wears all white on a plane without packing some stain remover and a backup outfit (or two) in their carry-on, I guess. This movie already strains credulity. She has a bound itinerary but no change of clothes or scheduled ride from the airport? As if!!
We are, in case you were confused, entering the descent into hell phase of the movie. After admiring the statue of Juliet and The Balcony, Julie makes her way upstairs past a whole bunch of cats to the apartment she’s rented, where she finds the door already open. She finds this odd, but goes inside anyway because apparently the woodland creatures who raised her didn’t teach her about signs of danger. Again, I find this offensive because this woman is supposed to have her shit fully together. She would at least carry that giant-ass key sticking out between her fingers as a weapon.
Inside, she finds Charlie (Tom Hopper), a tall, toned, inoffensively handsome British man wearing only boxer shorts, who (Sorpresa!!!) has also booked the apartment for the week. It’s not a surprise that these two take an instant dislike to each other. However, normally in this kind of movie there is some spark that foretells future romantic flames. In this case? Not so much. These two have all the chemistry of a wet napkin on a bathroom floor. (Also, the minute or so that Charlie is shirtless is as racy as the movie gets. Don’t bother fast-forwarding looking for more skin. There isn’t any.)
Charlie, who claims he could care less about romance, is in Verona to scope out wines for his fancy-pants company at a huge convention that has every hotel in the city fully booked. He’s stayed in this apartment for six years, so he thinks he basically has dibs. Julie says she never makes mistakes, so she definitely thinks she has dibs. It turns out that the apartment owner’s (Emilio Solfrizzi) wife and mistress (how do you solve a problem like misogyny? And stereotypes?) double booked the place, so Charlie and Julie will just have to share for the week. And what happens when pretty people are confined to a small space? LOVE WILL FIND A WAY.
Then Julie gets some terrible advice from two men and this movie descends into a deeper level of hell. Charlie sees Brandon trying to call her, guesses he’s her ex-boyfriend, and tells her that men always want what they can’t have so she should ignore him. Gross. After accidentally letting in all the neighborhood cats, which sets off Charlie’s severe allergies, which in turn pisses him off, Julie calls Rob to vent about the situation. He tells her that, “no offense…but getting men to leave is what you do.” Uh, what?!? Please discard of this entire man and his bullshit perspective immediately. (Don’t worry, it gets worse.) He suggests that she should use her “talent” to make Charlie leave.
So, now we enter into the warring part of the movie where Charlie and Julie try to one up each other by doing awful things. This is a standard rom-com fare (not my favorite flavor, but still standard) yet it’s done with so much spite and meanness here that by the time they call a truce it’s difficult to find anything redeeming in any of it or either of them. Plus, there’s the ableism. Julie’s first salvo is to surround a sleeping Charlie with green olives—which she knows some cats like—and then let all the neighborhood strays in, so he wakes up covered in hives. Nothing is so funny as messing around with people’s allergies which could, you know, cut off their breathing. Seriously, if you put twenty cats in close proximity to the people I know with severe allergies, they would, at best, require a trip to the hospital. There are just so many other things to use as a joke other than people’s severe allergies, illnesses, and disabilities. These are all things that people already don’t take seriously or think aren’t real, so making a joke out of them only deepens the stigma. Speaking of which, Charlie’s next move is to tell the man delivering Julie’s suitcases that she’s had a “total nervous breakdown” and “they had to put her into an insane asylum” so he should donate her clothing to an orphanage. I mean…What. The. Fucking. Fuck? Was this script pulled out of a dusty vault? Because that’s the only way that line being spoken in the Year of Our Streaming 2022 makes sense. The war continues to escalate as they do new and terrible things to each other, which, yes, do include someone’s personal secrets being publicly exposed, someone ending up in jail, and both of them throwing things at each other. As an added bonus, this movie also manages to be completely offensive about another culture’s traditional food, which is a real feat when you consider how much awful crap they needed to cram into an hour and 55 minutes. I wonder what they had to edit out in order to make sure that 10 minute bit about Pastissada de Caval got to stay?
Then, in a move that gave me such severe emotional whiplash I may never recover, Charlie and Julie decide to be friends. I wouldn’t trust either of these people any farther than I would choose to run (which is not far, mind you), but they bond over several glasses of wine, decide they share “a kind of weird,” discuss dream jobs (Charlie hates his job), make wishes, and cup Juliet’s breast for luck (not a euphemism). They both say that the past few days have been the most fun they’ve ever had. Excuse me? That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. Julie says that not having control has been kind of amazing, to which I say, Absolutely no. Can learning to not control every aspect of your life be important? Certainly. Is being lied to, tricked, and hazed while simultaneously inflicting similar acts upon another human being in any way, shape, or form even close to that? Sob. No.
Anytoots, the next morning Julie wakes up and cheerfully cleans up the whole apartment and all the evidence of their previous battles while she lets Charlie sleep in, and, wow, that just seems like a very particular fantasy with extremely prescribed gender roles to write into a rom-com script, let alone to keep in the final cut. I, personally, would like it burned with fire. Then they spend the day together on a whole trip she has somehow planned between being very drunk, sleeping, cleaning, food shopping, getting Charlie a hangover cappuccino, and feeling amazing about letting go of control. I guess it’s okay to do lots of careful planning when it benefits a man, but not when it’s just for her own enjoyment?
This movie is more determined than most of its caliber to tell rather than show things, which is likely also why it’s so infinitely long. When Charlie and Julie are discussing their backgrounds, Julie explicitly explains how her parents used to “make out all the time” in front of her (um, that’s not how people speak about their parents) and how that made her expect she would someday find her absolutely perfect person. Charlie, on the other hand, gives a riveting dissertation on how his father was always worried about losing his mother because she was so beautiful. (Friends, there is simply too much to unpack.) Charlie therefore believes that the power in the relationship “resides with one who cares less.” Sounds like both these people could do with actually talking to their parents about their relationships. These character traits are so glaringly obvious long before Charlie and Julie spend the better part of an hour pontificating on them (I exaggerate. Slightly.) that I fear Mr. Mark Steven Johnson may not think we viewers are capable of finding our way out of a cardboard box while armed with a flashlight. I assure you, sir, we are.
Look, could I go on? I’m sure I could…find a way. However, I think I’m now the one at risk of being the one over-explaining.
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