‘Little Italy’ review: More like cheesecake than pizza

The clichéd poster of Donald Petrie’s ‘Little Italy’ is already an indication of the cheesy tropes that will be served throughout the film.

There’s no secret recipe in Little Italy. It’s one of those whimsical romcoms trying to make a comeback in Hollywood using a classic formula. You can easily compare it to the far superior Crazy Rich Asians – another romcom that banks on food and culture, except the latter has more heart and context, rather than just being an assembly of overdue tropes and saccharine dialogue.

“There’s a reason they call this place ‘Little Italy,’ it’s because nothing ever changes here,” we hear the voices of Nikki (Emma Roberts) and Leo (Hayden Christensen) narrating their fairytale childhood – or what could have been a snide remark to the film’s non-progressive take of the genre. The story takes place in a small town in Toronto where all the elements surrounding it are so caricature, the whole place might as well be fictional. To get the most out of it, you’ll have to surrender to its escapist charms.

The childhood sweethearts haven’t seen each other for many years, but the two will have to navigate a slow reunion/courtship as they’re caught in the middle of a ludicrous food feud between their respective fathers Sal (Adam Ferrara) and Vince (Gary Basaraba), both of whom are claiming to have the best pizzeria in town. There’s a “Romeo and Juliet” template here. The two discreetly rekindle their relationship by doing some bazaar shopping and candle-lit dinners, trying out new spices for Leo’s dream restaurant, playing soccer in the middle of a rain, and all that romantic stuff. While here I am, wondering how wide is the age gap between these two actors.

Hayden Christensen and Emma Roberts in ‘Little Italy.’ Photo via Entertainment One,

Never mind that Leo has a girlfriend – the film seems to have forgotten that little detail along the way. If the two star-crossed lovers admit to their dads how they really feel for each other, then maybe they can end this senseless family conflict. But Nikki has already made a career in the city and she can only stay for so long. With a film that’s so formulaic and predictable, it should not be a surprise to you that it all boils down to a last minute profession of love in an airport.

To compensate for an uncompelling central love plot, the film entertains you with two outlandish families pulling hijinks at each other – the results can be a hit or a miss. The two dads have a weekly insult contest while their wives try to get a hold of them. Their secretly in love grandparents engage in millennial activities. And as for the exotic spices, we also have Indians playing stereotypes (cue in the curry references), and a wacky Chinese best friend who seems to be having the most fun here.

Little Italy is clearly stuck in the ranks of early 2000 romcoms – it jams most of its clichéd ingredients in the oven and simultaneously fails to make something fresh out of it. The resulting chemistry between Roberts and Christensen is no fine dining material, but rather an afternoon snack that will otherwise satiate the tastes of hopeless romantics looking for schmaltzy fun. If you’re a sucker for these types of films, feel free to knock yourself out. As far as I’m concerned, this is just reheated pizza.

On a different note, the pizza that I’m eating during this film’s advance screening (courtesy of “Big Guys Pizza”) has more of the sumptuous “yum” that I’m looking for.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Donald Petrie and written by Steve Galluccio and Vinay Virmani, ‘Little Italy’ stars Emma Roberts, Hayden Christensen, Alyssa Milano, Adam Ferrara, Gary Basaraba, Linda Kash, Andrew Phung, Cristina Rosato, Danny Aiello, Andrea Martin and Jane Seymour
Run time: 102 minutes

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