Review By James Lindorf
Donald Petrie, the director of classic Rom-Coms How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Miss Congeniality and Mystic Pizza, is back with his latest feature, Little Italy, starring Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen. Nikki (Roberts) has returned home to Toronto’s little Italy for the first time in five years ago, hoping to reconnect with her family and old friends like Leo (Christensen). There is just one thing preventing them from making a connection: their families own rival pizzerias and have been feuding for the last 20 years. Roberts and Christenson are joined by an all-star supporting cast that includes Alyssa Milano (Charmed), with Danny Aiello (Do The Right Thing), and Andrea Martin (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), to name a few. Lionsgate will be releasing the film to select theaters and On Demand Friday, September 21st.
Petrie’s latest film isn’t breaking any molds, thanks to a script from Steve Galluccio and Vinay Virmani. They created something sweet, but far from original, and like any good pizza it is extra cheesy. Their story felt a bit like a couple out of time. If someone told me this was 20 years old, I’d believe them because it has the feel of something that come out between 1985 and 2005. While that may sound off-putting to some, their film is not without its charms, mostly due to good chemistry between Roberts and Christianson and the supporting cast. Andrea Martin and Danny Aiello as the matriarch and patriarch of the families have the most interesting sub plot, then it is the two sons and their feud and finally their wives in a distant third.
Cinematographer Thom Best did a great job capturing enough of the essence of Toronto’s little Italy but making it vague enough that it could be a couple of blocks in any major city. I also liked that he and Petrie paid homage to a few shots in his previous films. I wouldn’t buy it for one second that Leo teaching Nikki to ride a scooter wasn’t a reimagining of the motorcycle lesson from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. A harder to spot call-back as Nikki looking at a Mystic Pizza t-shirt at the farmers market. Only the die-hard fans would catch that one.
One surprising turn in the film is the back story for Leo’s best friend/landlord Luigi. You’ll notice from the first second he’s in film that he doesn’t look like the typical Italian and he shouldn’t because he is actually Chinese. His story is tragic with a sweet finish, but it is almost too dark for a film that lacks depth in every other scene. I liked it and it may be the most memorable moment of the film, but it felt a bit out of place.
While the film is as predictable as the standard romantic comedy fair, it entertained me for the length of its 102-minute runtime and provided a few chuckles throughout. It’s kind of like the pizza you don’t regret ordering, you’d even have again, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to get it. There just isn’t enough spice or interesting ingredients to draw you back time and time again, but for people of a certain age, it may satisfy your craving for something nostalgic.