Coming-of-age story falls into familiar genre traps
Netflix’s novel to movie churn is probably the best among all streaming platforms. ‘Love & Gelato’ comes from Jenna Evans Welch’s romance novel about Lina, a young girl about to begin college who loses her mother to cancer. Her final wish was for Lina to go with/without her to Italy, a place that transfigured her. She wanted the memorable experience that became a part of her heart forever to be a stepping stone for Lina in life.
The book, as you may have guessed, is a best-seller. It is actually very well written, based on some extracts I read from it after having watched the film.
One thing that instantly overwhelms you when you first see ‘Love & Gelato’ is the setting. It is set at the heart of all glorious cinematic heartbreaks – Rome. The city is a promising mix of modern luxuries and monuments from the past that tell its story. We are taken to places that have never been brought onto the screen. Under twinkling lights, it becomes even more vivid.
As Lina’s mother described it in her diary, the city talks back to you in hushed tones to bring you closer to yourself. While we certainly relish seeing its many artefacts on the screen, there is a truth about the film that it cannot shrug off. More often than not, the next – and mostly, final – step in romcoms can be seen from a mile away. ‘Love & Gelato’ is no different.
The only unique selling points that differentiate these genre films are the representation of characters and the narrative style. Unfortunately, ‘Love & Gelato’ does not have either in aplomb to sufficiently carry it from the trudges of “old wine, new bottle”.
Popular personality tropes like the nerdy girl who has never had a boyfriend and knows completely unnecessary statistics about things off the top of her head, along with a rich, good-looking but kind boy who is a victim of his parent’s expectations, are seen again.
Director Brandon Camp loses its literary source’s deft narration – full of life and humor – of self-discovery in translation. He instead opts for an artless, cheery comedic tone that has become to movies what instant coffee is to everyday office-going folks with no time in life.
The well-trodden path seldom strayed away from brings back the screaming memories of watching all those pointless films saying the same things over and over again. A handful of laughs and a tear or two: this is apparently what satisfies Camp, who seems to want nothing more from his story.
The redundancy is particularly frustrating given how different a more sincere extraction of the novel’s real essence could have been. The premise’s strongest and strangest part is the “retracing” of Lina’s mother’s steps, as Howard tells her. Her connection and similarity to her mother should have been the engine around which the other moving parts of the story should have been assembled. Instead, it is relegated to the sidelines, limited to the rusty, old diary.
The callous mistreatment of grief is even more appalling, considering how miserable it can make a person. Lina is hardly given any time to process this big change in her life, despite her resisting coming to Italy in the first place to “move on with her life”.
In situations like these, it is the hardest thing for a child to overcome such losses. It is instead used as a catalyst for plot development. She’s thrust into an unassuming love triangle that gives her even more pain. McDonnell is the best of the lot. His sincere act reminds me so much of a young Gerald Butler, who could make you soft with a glance.
Skaggs, Lodovini, and Nanni put in decent performances but all are mostly flat owing to the nature of the film. A disappointing end result, given the expectations from the novel.
Read More: Love & Gelato Ending Explained
Verdict - 5/10