TL;DR – rom-com that tries for something a little deeper but only scratches the surface.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Love & Gelato follows the tried and true formula of rom-coms and attempts to throw you for a spin but with mixed and limited success.
The film has a number of strengths, but these are offset by some gaping problems. In the pros column we have the following:
- a solid cast – the main character, Lina (Susanna Skaggs), along with an eclectic supporting cast are engaging and interesting enough to carry the story. Lina, particularly, has enough combination of quirkiness and introspection that draws you into her world, and Skaggs delivers this in spades even if she is unable to hide how stunning she looks under geeky glasses and baggy clothing.
- choreography – the scenes of Rome and Florence spark the magic one would expect from a cultural icon of Europe. The camera work ensures that Rome is presented as one fascinating gigantic museum (which it is) where every road and cobblestone pathway leads you to something interesting and historical. The film never strays from its glamour which is a requirement of a rom-com and doesn’t reveal the rougher and seedier sides of big cities.
- the story – based on the novel of the same name by Jenna Evans Welch, the journey of a young woman trying to navigate a world after the passing of her mother is poignant and rich with emotion.
- the language – though I cannot speak Italian, from what I can tell, most of the characters are played by Italian actors and speak the language flawlessly.
Unfortunately, the above is offset by a cons column that requires a significant suspension of belief including:
- Alessandro (Saul Nanni) – is the first love interest and spots Lina overlooking Rome and simply waltzes up to her with a bravado and interest that would never happen between two strangers. The fact that he is too good-looking is probably the only reason that Lina engages with him and doesn’t high-tail it out of there. Believable? I think not. He then obtains her phone number from a social profile that has been set up by Lina’s best friend, Addie (Anjelika Washington), without her knowledge and asks her to join him in a night at the opera. Not creepy at all. Totally believable. (Yes, I am rolling my eyes as I write this).
- Lorenzo (Tobia De Angelis) – is the second love interest. Lorenzo is a budding chef and used to be best friends with Alessandro when they were younger (small world, yes?) Lina bumps into Lorenzo who is working in a kitchen cooking for the black tie party at the opera. Turns out Alessandro’s father is a rich snob who judges Alessandro’s date (i.e., Lina) as yet another girl he is dating that will be forgotten tomorrow. Lina is suitably mortified, rushes downstairs from the opera, into the kitchen and collides into Lorenzo holding desserts. Lorenzo being the good guy that he is, offers her a change of clothes and a lift back to her place on his moped. Lorenzo is also good-looking and cute, so he must be trustworthy even though he’s also a complete stranger. Again, really believable…not.
- A weak mystery element that is meant to drive the story (see below).
“You never forget your first love” is spoken by Lina in the opening narration where it is revealed that Lina’s mother, Hadley, has passed away from cancer. In her final days, she made Lina promise to still go on their mother-daughter graduation trip to Rome even though all Lina wants to do is focus on preparing for college at MIT instead of a holiday that was meant to be with her mother.
The mystery element of the story lies in Lina’s (initially unwilling) attempts to unravel the experiences of her mother prior to her birth. This is presented to Lina in the form of a diary written by her mother and given to Lina by her self-proclaimed godmother, Francesca (Valentina Lodovini), when she arrives in Rome. The diary acts as a sort-of “life experiences” love letter and shows a part of her life that Lina never found out about. Until now.
The ensuing love triangle between Lina, Alessandro and Lorenzo is meant to build tension (who will she choose?) while she delves deeper into her mother’s diary and discovers that Lina’s conception happened in Italy and that her biological father (who Lina has never known) is now living in Florence as a successful photographer and art gallery owner.
When Lina hunts down her biological father, she discovers that he is a heartless bastard. She leaves furious and in tears. This isn’t really a twist because at the beginning, Lina has been told previously by her mother that if she ever met Lina’s biological father again, she would probably kill him. So, you know from the start that he used Hadley, and Lina simply confirms it in person.
Instead, the so-called twist comes in two forms.
The first is that Hadley’s true love is actually Howard (Owen McDonnell) who happens to be Francesca’s cousin. Howard went to a university in Rome and met Hadley in the summer she stayed with Francesca. Howard never confessed his feelings to Hadley (until it was too late), and she ended up falling for her photography teacher instead (aka ‘heartless bastard’ and Lina’s biological father).
Howard has stayed on in Italy as a teacher and is introduced to Lina at the beginning of the film through Francesca. Howard also happens to be one of Lorenzo’s teachers (yes, small world indeed).
The second so-called twist comes in the form that in the end, Lina discovers Alessandro is as messed up as she is, and they would end up being a car crash together. So, it appears that Lina has chosen Lorenzo, and she rushes to the train station when she finds out he is leaving for Paris to forge his dream of becoming a professional chef. She catches him before he leaves (as all good rom-coms do) and confesses in a roundabout way:
“Getting swept up in the wrong, or the right thing at the wrong time, it isn’t something that you can ever take back. I thought I had to make some choice between you and Alessandro, but she (my mother) really wanted me to come here to find me,” says Lina to a slightly befuddled but heart-in-mouth Lorenzo.
Thus, in the end, Lina chooses neither of them. Twist? Kind of.
In what is essentially an epilogue to the film, Lina finishes reading her mother’s diary and discovers that her mother loved Howard all along. Lina confronts Howard and they have a heart-to-heart and Howard asks if he can be her adopted father. She accepts and spends a gap year in Rome.
Fast forward a year and Lina has taken up photography and bumps into Lorenzo who has returned from Paris as a professional chef looking to open a bakery in Rome. And bingo, it is now the right thing at the right time.
Rom-com that isn’t terrible if you suspend belief in some of the plot holes and character encounters. At the very least, you’ll marvel at Italy’s beauty, and Susanna Skaggs portrays well the nerdiness of her character regardless of how stunning she is without glasses and baggy overalls.
A decent rom-com, if a bit saccharine.
7 out of 10