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Little Italy (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 6, 2020

Little Italy


Starring Hayden Christensen, Emma Roberts, Alyssa Milano, Danny Aiello, Andrea Martin, Jane Seymour, Gary Basaraba, Adam Ferrara, Andrew Phung, Vas Saranga, Linda Kash, Amrit Kaur, Cristina Rosato, Nicky Cappella, Ava Preston, Paul Constable, Daniel DeSanto, Julian DeZotti, Kayla Dumont, Christopher Hayes, Brittany Johnson, Elena Khan and Sugith Varughese.

Screenplay by Steve Galluccio and Vinay Virmani.

Directed by Donald Petrie.

Distributed by LionsGate. 101 minutes. Rated PG.

In 1988, director Donald Petrie did a terrific little comedy drama called Mystic Pizza, a sweet and smart romantic comedy which mostly took place in a small pizzeria and introduced the world to an exciting young actress named Julia Roberts.

Thirty years later, Petrie has returned to the idea of the of a rom com based around a pizza joint. He even brought in another Roberts as the female lead – Julia’s niece Emma Roberts.

Sorry, Little Italy is no Mystic Pizza. It’s more like a warmed-over rip off My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with a half-hearted pinch of Romeo & Juliet added to the sauce.

Early in the film, which opens with a flashback with both stars Roberts and Hayden Christensen doing an awkward tag-team voiceover, Roberts’ character accuses Christensen’s of using crass ethnic stereotypes of the Italian characters in the film. This is kind of amusing, because this film is nothing but a long group of ethnic stereotypes of Italians – except for the periodic sections which slip into Indian stereotypes. Screenwriters Steve Galluccio and Vinay Virmani are apparently from family backgrounds in Italy and India, so I assume it is done good-naturedly.

The movie takes place in the neighborhood the film is titled after – though this is the Little Italy in Toronto, not the better known one in New York. It is a tale of two families and two pizzerias in the neighborhood (though, from what I hear from a couple of people who know Toronto, very little of the film is actually filmed in Little Italy).

The families used to be good friends and work together. However, years ago, for reasons very few people even remember, the two fathers Vince (Gary Basaraba) and Sal (Adam Ferrara) started a massive feud. They opened their restaurants next door to each other, sniping and pranking each other, basically trying to put the other out of business.

Most of the rest of the families just humor the guys – the wives are still secret friends; the grandparents are in the middle of a clandestine relationship. And the children – Leo (Christensen) and Nikki (Roberts) are life-long best friends who have always fought attraction due to the family strife. In fact, Nikki has gone away to Europe for culinary school. When offered a potential big job opening a chic London restaurant, she has to go home to break it to her family.

Nikki and Leo run into each other – accidentally on purpose – at the local bar where he moonlights. The spark is still there, but they know their dads hate each other so they start a slow courtship. They are supposedly best friends since childhood – though I’d guess Christensen is in his late 30s, while Roberts is probably in her late 20s. Then again, the grandparents played by Andrea Martin and Danny Aiello are also having an affair and Aiello must be at least 15 years older than Martin, so I guess ages are not a big deal here. And frankly, neither one of them looks even the least bit Italian.

Strangely some of the older actors have previously been in similar-but-better films – Danny Aiello was in Moonstruck and Andrea Martin was in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Well okay, Big Fat wasn’t all that much better….

However, if you have seen any rom coms in the last several decades, not a single thing in Little Italy will come as a surprise to you. Yes, this is the kind of rom com where someone runs across the city to win the other back in front of friends, family and strangers at the airport. (Luckily this took place in Toronto, because TSA would have never let him get as far as he did.)

Roberts is cute in her role, and she has decent chemistry with Christensen. And it’s always nice to see Martin and Aiello (who has been missing in action for a while), even though their characters are both caricatures.

If you go into Little Italy with lowish expectations, it can be moderately amusing. It’s the type of movie that will waste a couple of hours if you run across it on cable. It’s sort of like a Nia Vardalos movie without Nia Vardalos. Whether that is a good thing or not is entirely up to you.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: September 21, 2018.

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