Romcom Views: Love in the Villa

I am extremely pleased with the proliferation of romcoms arriving on Netflix and I finally feel like I will always find something to watch. I’m so happy to see romantic films being made that I can usually tolerate quite a lot of disappointment in the story before I admit I didn’t enjoy it, much, but I also freely enjoy very few romcoms because my brain is taking it all a step deeper because this is what I write and books simply have deeper characterisation than films.

I’m quite excited by the Italian series Odio di Natale (I hate Christmas) because it looks like it was sponsored by the region of Veneto, so it has lots of scenery from my books, both my Venice books and the ‘P’ book, coming out spring next year. It’s the Italian version of a series plotline that has appeared in multiple languages so far, about a woman looking for a boyfriend to take to her family Christmas.

I recently watched Love in the Villa, which was quite an experience because it could have been one of my books, the content was so similar. In fact, Italy Ever After takes place mostly on Lake Garda and the main character, Lou, also visits the wine region near Bardolino, where the characters go in Love in the Villa. My next book is also about wine, so the character of Charlie attending Vinitaly was rather similar to aspects of my next book (I fictionalised Vinitaly rather than using the real name, calling it Vin Excellence and placing it in Milan for plot reasons, but it’s only a small part of the book).

There was even a little scene where the owner of a winery says he’s just a farmer and that’s basically one of the themes of my next book! I also found the tongue-in-cheek humour with a touch of cynicism was quite similar to my books. Although I try to capture the myth of a place in my writing as well, ultimately, I can’t ignore the reality, even if it’s not quite as romantic. I enjoy the romance between the characters, as well as the romance of the place.

This was all rather fun, seeing aspects that I’d picked out for my books also appearing in a film. But it also meant there were bound to be disappointments, too, given how carefully I’d made my own plot and character choices. It would have been good to switch off my work brain and just enjoy it, but that didn’t quite happen.

  • The pranks at the beginning were entirely overdone and actually undermined the development of romantic chemistry, rather than creating it (which is the strength of the enemies-to-lovers trope). The pranks themselves were very unrealistic and also very much out-of-character for Julie.
  • The pranks also completely undermined the promise of the forced proximity trope, which is the entire premise of the film (they are stuck sharing a holiday apartment). Tropes are so important in romance, but it’s just as important to play to the strengths of the tropes as to choose popular ones to start with. Forced proximity should lead to lots of awkward moments of accidental intimacy that bring the characters closer, but here, it drove them apart, which is not satisfying.
  • The arrival of Cassie at the two-third-mark made me do a double-take. It was a classic ‘lack of conflict’ moment, where they had to add something – anything! – to keep it all going and the fall-back in a romance is a love triangle. It is REALLY HARD to make a love triangle not suck, because either the character comes across as weak and indecisive, or they are actually nasty to the real love interest. It’s not a good obstacle!
  • I did like Charlie, with his irreverent humour. Both characters flip-flopped a bit, but he definitely had promise. Films always try to shove so much into the two-odd hours and their conversations often felt contrived. I loved how they both had classic romance back-stories, reasons why their love-lives had reached a crisis, but there was so little time to develop that. We just got that montage of Verona and Lake Garda, with their discussions.
  • The classic misunderstanding crisis moment and cliche ending I almost didn’t mind, because I think people enjoy these things even if they don’t always make sense and I’d like to see authors getting away with more of the cheesy romantic stuff that these films are full of. But it was a little silly that Charlie had his lightbulb moment and ran to find her and then walked off again when he saw Brandan proposing, without waiting to see what would happen. I would NEVER get away with that.
  • This might sound petty, but Julie’s costumes kept distracting me. I think the point was supposed to be that she started treating herself to fun Italian clothes because she lost her luggage, but they were just weird and didn’t look like Italian fashion sense to me (except one dress she wore, which was what made me think that was supposed to be the point). Also, Vinitaly takes place in April, which wouldn’t have been warm enough for a lot of her clothes.
  • I liked the bit at the end where she asked Brandon if she was weird and then said his kind of weird didn’t match hers. Again, this is a theme in my next book, so that was funny, too. It did just feel a little sudden in this film for some reason. I hadn’t realised Julie was supposed to be so quirky.
  • The soundtrack was wonderful! It was lovely to hear more than just the usual Italian stereotype music!

The headline is, a romance author would probably have done a better job of it, but I’m glad someone made it!

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