It’s hard to believe that Little Italy is an actual film made in 2018 when all the stereotypes it employs suggests it was made at least three decades earlier. But I checked and then checked again, and it was indeed released eighteen whole years into the twenty-first century. Now I’m writing about this embarrassing romance featuring two young Italian-Canadian lovers and a pizza contest.
Which is what you would think when you see Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen, right? Right? In roles they were born to play, the two actors dive head first into this story about childhood friends caught in their parents’ pizza feud. Alexa and Leo both grew up in Toronto’s Little Italy and watched as their fathers went from best friends to best enemies after an unexplained dust-up at the annual street fair. The incident caused dads Sal (Adam Ferrara) and Vince (Gary Basaraba) to part ways and establish their own pizzerias. Now with Alexa newly returned from abroad, the families’ love-hate relationship is about to head into its third generation.
Having studied and worked as a chef in London, Alexa is not thrilled to be back in town. She dislikes her neighborhood’s parochial ways and is fed up with Sal and Vince’s pettiness, though she works for a demanding celebrity chef (Jane Seymour) so not sure what she’s complaining about there. Luckily, Leo helps smooth out her transition, and the two pick up their friendship where they last left off. At least this is how things start off. Then a pretty flight attendant shows up at Leo’s doorstep and he won’t shake off his aimless friend, Luigi (Andrew Phung), or his soccer habit. Their fathers exacerbate things when they enter the two into a neighborhood pizza contest as a point of pride. Alexa starts to rethink her feelings towards Leo and this whole damn Little Italy pizza business.
Roberts and Christensen make a cute pair, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them reteam for another romcom. They have the familiarity of two best friends and lovers, and that makes it a little easier to forgive their characters when the writing isn’t up to scratch, which is most of the time. Alexa and Leo slip into a comfortable relationship, and their simultaneous ease and awkwardness with one another at this new point in their lives is acutely felt. Their fights, however, don’t make a lot of sense and are seemingly injected into key moments because that’s what the plot necessitates.
Rather than leaning into a strong story, the movie instead relies on cheap, tired jokes, and there’s a lot to choose from. The portrayal of Jogi (Vas Saranga), an Indian worker at one of the pizzerias, is the most offensive. I like the nod to the changing nature of ethnic enclaves – Jessie (Amrit Kaur), also Indian, works next door and Luigi is a gay Chinese bar owner – but FFS, Jogi gets on the table, dances with an old white lady, and cracks on about Aladdin taking her on a magic carpet ride. I, an 80s kid, am still recovering from exactly this type of scene. Then there’s the hokey depiction of Italian Canadians. Of course they sling around accents like they’ve stepped off the set of Jersey Shore, and of course they pepper their insults with choice Italian phrases and exaggerated hand gestures, and yes, grandma (Andrea Martin) and grandpa (Danny Aiello) are getting it on the confessional. Okay, I don’t know if that last point is a stereotype or just a sad cliché. That couple is probably the sweetest and purest thing in this movie, but I am going elsewhere for my octogenarian romance.
Prod: Vinay Virmani, Ajay Virmani, Pauline Dhillon
Dir: Donald Petrie
Writer: Steve Galluccio, Vinay Virmani
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Emma Roberts, Danny Aiello, Andrea Martin, Adam Ferrara, Gary Basaraba, Alyssa Milano, Linda Kash, Vas Saranga, Amrit Kaur, Jane Seymour, Andrew Phung
Time: 102 min