There’s cheese aplenty in Netflix’s latest rom-com, but its Maori cast and Kiwi setting give it some unexpected charms.
From the cinematic highs of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before to the morally and artistically dubious lows of The Kissing Booth, the catchall term “Netflix rom-com” covers a wide array of quality. Somewhere in the middle is a set of films that consciously mimic the glossily hollow aesthetic of a Hallmark Channel original film: A Christmas Prince, The Princess Switch, and now Falling Inn Love. The latest entry swaps out the Christmas theme for something more appropriate for its late summer release date. It’s a love letter to New Zealand that combines the Cameron Diaz storyline from The Holiday with the inn-keeping dreams and goat-themed comedy of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. For what it’s trying to be, it’s pretty good. But does that make it a good movie? Ay, there’s the rub.
Look, if you aren’t at least a little bit charmed by the overt cheesiness of Falling Inn Love’s trailer, this isn’t the film for you. Helmed by director Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions, Just Friends), everyone involved clearly knows exactly what kind of film they’re making. Falling Inn Love isn’t here to reinvent the wheel or even aim towards the highpoints of the rom-com genre. Its pleasures come from its made-for-TV kitschy-ness, like the fact that the plot kicks off when leading lady Gabriela Diaz (Christina Milian) drunkenly submits a 400-word essay for an online “Win-an-Inn” contest. She wins, of course, but the pitch-perfect New Zealand B&B she was promised turns out to be located in a Podunk town three bus rides away from Auckland. And far from a ready-to-rent income property, it’s a crumbling fixer-upper with a live-in goat named Gilbert.
Gabriela’s plan to stay for a week quickly turns into a multi-month renovation project. And as it goes in these Hallmark-esque films, she must learn to leave behind the grueling “hamster wheel” of big city life for the pleasures of small-town living. Those pleasures include a hunky but emotionally vulnerable contractor named Jake Taylor (Adam Demos), who eventually becomes her partner in rehabbing the inn to her eco-friendly standards. (When it’s not playing like a tourism ad for New Zealand, Falling Inn Love feels like an infomercial for sustainable living.) Their business partnership soon becomes a personal one too, and though Falling Inn Love stays within the chaste boundaries of the Hallmark format, there is a sexy tile-grouting scene to look forward to.
The New Zealand setting does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to the charms of Falling Inn Love. The over-the-top friendliness of the endearingly accented small-town ensemble becomes a solid running gag. News of Gabriela’s impending cold runs through the gossip mill and sends a cohort of worried friends to her door with tea and soup. If it seems implausible that this supposedly tiny town has a hip, Instagram-able café and an absolutely massive garden center, well, Falling Inn Love is the kind of film that derives pleasure from being laughed at as much as laughed with.
Falling Inn Love is the kind of film that derives pleasure from being laughed at as much as laughed with.
Milian and Demos are both steady hands at the (opposite-side-of-the-car) wheel, delivering exactly the kind of affably comedic performances the film asks of them and even occasionally locking into some genuine chemistry along the way. So it’s a shame the central love story is so inert, even by Hallmark Channel standards. Gabriela spends far too much time hating Jake upon sight for no discernible reason and the perfunctory third act strife is completely devoid of stakes. If there’s pleasure in watching Falling Inn Love embrace the cheesiest of conventions, there’s a downside too. At least there’s an utterly randomly Backdraft-inspired sequence to spice things up!
Still, it’s always nice to see a woman of color given the chance to make the kind of fluffy rom-com that has been lily-white for far too long. Between its eco-friendly aims, brief nods to Māori culture, and (minor) gay couple, Falling Inn Love at least feels socially well-intentioned in its glossy blankness. Less self-serious than an average studio rom-com but more self-serious than a Sharknado film, Falling Inn Love is a decent pun and a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and a half. If you’ve got some chores to do while it plays in the background, you’ll probably enjoy it even more.
Falling Inn Love is currently streaming on Netflix.