Are you a cynic or a romantic?
That may sound like an odd question to pose at the beginning of a review of a romantic comedy film since the underlying assumption is that as a partaker of this type of Cupid-esque confection that you are totally on board with the gloriously overdone cliches of the genre.
But as you dive headlong into one of the latest entries in Netflix’s rom-com renaissance, Falling Inn Love, whose very title is an invention to eye-rollingly intense cynicism, you might find your blind devotion to trope-heavy matters of the heart to be more than a little tested.
With little to no fanfare, Falling Inn Love takes us straight into the sunnily San Francisco-based perfect world of Gabriela Diaz (Christiana Milian) who has a career in eco-friendly architecture on the rise, even if it is blighted by boorishly cliched misogynists like her start-up’s boss Chad (Daniel Watterson), a gorgeous if commitment-averse boyfriend Dean (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and, a barista who knows exactly when she’s passing by so she can pick up her coffee with skipping a jaunty beat.
It’s cliche piled merrily upon cliche and to be honest, your initial response is to sigh, wonder if this rom-com will be your precious bingeing time, and to read for the “off” button, such as it is on Netflix.
As you finger pauses with indecision above your mouse, you are then taken into a boardroom where Gabriela’s big, important presentation where she will solve eco-friendly housing issues for all time, is ignored by Chad and her testosterone-laden flunkies, none of whom appreciate her hard work, her eagerness to present or her beautifully-arranged donuts.
It’s meant to be a big feminist statement, or at least a small, character-building one, and while it packs a reasonable narrative punch, when added to the cliches quickly piling up around Gabriela, you begin to suspect you’re walking straight into the motherlode trope of all rom-com tropes.
It’s giving next to nothing away to say that in short order, Gabriela loses her job, her boyfriend, who won’t share a closet with her and with whom she enjoys the surface-deep chemistry of a mop, and ends up, as so many rom-com heroines before her have, in her pajamas, eating way too much ice cream and wondering where her life is going.
Cue a big blog twist where she wins an inn in the town of Beechwood Downs in faraway new Zealand which naturally offers her just the life changes she’s suddenly in need of – will she take it (will she what!) and is it a big and well-executed enough twist in proceedings to replace your mouse-clicking cynicism with some swoon-worthy continued viewing?
Interestingly enough, yes.
While the cliches keeping coming thick and fast – impossibly-perfect, single and available though hurt by the traumatic loss of past love potential boyfriend Jake Taylor (Adam Demos), quirky townsfolk Norm (William Walker), the hardware guy and local plant nursery owner Shelley (Claire Chitham) and prissy, flower and doll-obsessed, B&B-owning antagonist Charlotte Wadsworth (Anna Jullienne) to the point where you are in danger of being subsumed by them – there is something about the general likeability of Falling In Love, not to mention the charming if low key chemistry between Milian and Demos, that somehow manages to let romance triumph over cynicism.
Perhaps it’s the bright, shiny vivacity of the local New Zealand landscape, or the smalltown bonhomie of the townspeople who jump into help Gabriela start renovating her money pit of an inn, an especially welcome sense of community when she falls ill partway through the titanic renovation challenge, or simply the idea of beginning your life all over again, but just as you’re beginning to think the cliches are reaching an insurmountable level, Falling Inn Love charms your antipodean socks off with a delightful sense that real change is possible.
Reinvention is damn near impossible to resist as a feel good option in any circumstance, but it is particularly potent in this context because who of us don’t want to believe in the idea of escaping our current beleaguered situation and starting all over again in a way that answers all of our needs, both the obvious ones and the ones we’re not aware of until they start being met.
It’s an intoxicating idea and one that Falling Inn Love owns with gusto, cliches and all, confident in the underlying premise that here is a woman whose lost it all only to find out she’s gaining more than she could possibly have ever imagined.
Including, naturally enough, the slow-burning love, preceded, as decreed by inviolable rom-com law down through the ages with the kind of banter-heavy antagonism of which eternally-solid pairings are made.
Granted this is one part of the movie where Demos and Milian’s chemistry doesn’t rise above the cliches, feeling a little awkward and forced – blame that though on fairly-average dialogue, a problem which rears its head again in the inevitable temporary break-up scene in the final act – but it somehow works, laying the foundation for what will be, we all know, life transforming love sweet love.
Honestly, by this stage the winsome loveliness of this film is so unexpectedly potent that it becomes well nigh impossible to let the cynicism going riding roughshod over the romance.
Yes, somehow this most B-grade of rom-coms, which will never be mistaken for a When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle, stares down its cliches and tropes, sweeps them into its highly-likable embrace and give them a sheen so welcoming and heartwarming that decrying them begins to feel like some sort of curmudgeonly Scrooge-like act.
Frankly, it’s a soothing relief to subsume yourself into the tantalisingly attractive ideas that Falling Inn Love spruiks with unconscious abandon (look its clearly plotted to within an inch of its life but it feels effortless and unforced, well most of the time, and it’s hard to begrudge the sense of glorious hope and possibility it proffers) and just go with it.
It doesn’t matter than you know Gabriela isn’t ever going to leave, hastily-enacted plot points to the contrary or that she and Jake are “it” for the duration or that Charlotte won’t actually end up being so bad after all; what matters, and feels lovely as it sinks into you, is that you begin to feel like this kind of too-good-to-be-true reinvention isn’t just realistic but wholly within your grasp too.
How a film steeped in a thousand unbelievable sleights of romantic hand manages this almost defies belief but it does, and it does so with charm so lovely you will glad give it anything by film’s end.
If anything, Falling Inn Love, benefits from wearing its cliches and tropes proudly and doing something wonderfully unexpected with them; not the romance, no, since we can see that coming a drone-shot mile off but rather tapping into the sense we all have that the rat race has us by the short and curlies and that maybe what we need is an injection of joyous, giddy possibility.
One that comes in the form of sweetly-caring townspeople including the gay couple who run the local cafe Manaaki (Blair Strang) and Peter (Jonathan Martin), all of whom, with a picture postcard perfect town and landscape-embellishing cinematography aiding their guileless PR campaign, prove that it is the accidental choices of life, the ones that seem to promise little but that come to deliver the world, in the process winning our hearts, even those caught in cliches and tropes, in ways we didn’t even know we needed.