Love In The Villa tranforms bottomless cliches into a surprisingly satisfying rom-com

·4 min read
Kat Graham as Julie and Tom Hopper as Charlie in Love In The Villa.
Kat Graham as Julie and Tom Hopper as Charlie in Love In The Villa.

After 35-plus years of experience, every single fiber of this professional journalist and critic’s being knows better than to get sucked into a movie as silly and predictable as Love In The Villa. And yet I love-hated every damn second of Mark Steven Johnson’s new rom-com for Netflix. Sure, it seems basic to the point of self-loathing, but there’s also a reason that Olive Garden is one of the biggest restaurant chains in the country—and it’s the same reason you’ll be watching Love In The Villa: it’s comfort food.

Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, Love In The Villa stars Kat Graham as Julie and Tom Hopper as Charlie. Julie is a sweet-natured, hyper-organized third-grade teacher from Minneapolis. She loves her job and her students, but can’t wait to visit Verona, Italy, with her longtime boyfriend, Brandon (Raymond Ablack). She’s all but certain Brandon will propose to her on the trip. Brandon, however, surprises Julie by ending their relationship. So she heads off to Verona alone, arriving at the villa only to face another surprise: due to a mix-up, the place is double-booked, and Julie must share it with Charlie, a tall, handsome, but insensitive Brit. They clash immediately, and so begins an ongoing battle that everyone but Julie and Charlie realizes can only end in … destino.

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Cue the clichés: there’s not one original idea anywhere in Love In The Villa. It’s as paint-by-numbers as any movie ever produced in the entire history of cinema. Julie loses her luggage at the airport. She winds up with a driver who drives like a lunatic and turns up repeatedly throughout the film. From the outside, the lodging looks nothing like it does on the website. And there’s a food fight, a supportive gay friend, endless Romeo & Juliet references (including Juliet’s house, the famous balcony, the iconic statue, the wall of love letters, and the locks of love), a drool-worthy montage of glorious delicacies, flyby shots of famous landmarks, visits to a winery, coins tossed in a fountain, an impossibly beautiful estate, surprise visits from unexpected characters—and more.

Further, Julie goes shopping and seems to spend a fortune despite her teacher’s salary. Even the music leans into the obvious, as we get Italian versions of “These Boots Were Made For Walking,” “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” and “I’m A Believer.” And it all leads to near-miss romantic connections before Julie and Charles realize that they love each other. Not to spoil the movie, but this fairy tale has got to have a happy ending. Although, at 1 hour and 55 minutes, Love In The Villa is molto longo.

Love in the Villa | Official Trailer | Netflix

And yet you buy all of it, thanks to Graham and Hopper. They’re both ridiculously gorgeous to look at and they share a romantic comedy must: chemistry. Sparks fly from their very first scene, charming viewers even when Julie and Charlie hate each other. There’s just not a false moment between them, and that lifts the entire souffle. I’d watch them in anything. (One wonders if Hopper’s real life wife Laura Hopper, who steals scenes in a pivotal supporting role, feels the same way.) Meanwhile, one truly memorable line of dialogue observes, “The power in any relationship resides with the one who cares less.” Not terribly romantic, of course, but a potent thought.

Mark Steven Johnson, the man behind all this, has written or directed (or both) a stream of bad-good/good-bad movies: Grumpy Old Men, Big Bully, Simon Birch, Jack Frost, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Finding Steve McQueen, Love, Guaranteed, and When In Rome. Subtract the latter’s fantasy element and it shares a lot in common with this one.

In which case, if you’re looking for a fun, entertaining night in front of the TV with your loved one, check out Love In The Villa. Again, and admittedly, this film is to romantic comedies what Olive Garden is to Italian cuisine. But like a bowl of pasta the size of your head and unlimited breadsticks, sometimes copious portions of something completely straightforward manages to deliver exactly the experience you want.