In Need Of Gentrification: Our Review Of ‘Little Italy’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - August 23, 2018
In Need Of Gentrification: Our Review Of ‘Little Italy’

A film critic’s main goal isn’t telling people if a movie is good or bad. Instead, critics must ask themselves, “How does this movie speak to me, what is the director’s intention, and were they successful?” Sometimes a critic doesn’t have to like a film or even understand it to see its value. But on rare occasions, a critic watches a film and must ask a different question: How does this movie exist? Little Italy is a how does this exist movie.

Many years ago, two childhood besties, Nikki (Emma Roberts) and Leo (Hayden Christensen) grew up in Toronto’s Little Italy. The pizza parlour their families ran together was the heart of their vibrant Italian community. Every night, they packed the joint with men and women displaying  ethnic stereotypes so regressive that The Simpsons‘ writers would think better of including them. Flash-forward a couple decades, and everything has gone down the toilet.

Little Italy

Credit – eOne

The families (actually, just the men) are feuding and now they run rival pizza parlours next door to each other and business is non-existent. Tired of family drama, Nikki fled to London and trained to become a chef. Meanwhile, Leo stuck around in Little Italy, not changing much. Nikki must come back to sort out a new visa and before she knows it her family sucks her back into their nonsense. To keep Nikki around, her mother (Alyssa Milano) tries marrying her off to any creepy schmoe who comes around. But instead, it seems that Nikki and Leo still have the hots for each other. Please stop me if you know how this story plays out.

You call movies “by-the-numbers” when they fall in line with the story, structure, and themes of the movies that came before them. Little Italy is as “by-the-numbers” as movies get. It brings nothing new to the table and botches the things it thinks it’s borrowing from better films. Genre tropes are necessary parts of films because they work as short-hand to move things along and shoulder some storytelling weight. Think of a showdown at high-noon in a western or a villain revealing his master plan to his captive in a spy flick. They put us in familiar settings and then veer off into something unique.

In terms of plot, Little Italy comes off like a high-school kid’s first script. It copies the overt genre touchstones but lacks the restraint, humanity, and emotional subtext needed to craft rich characters and advance a great story. Everything from the plot to the jokes feels lazy, uninspired, and woefully broad. You see what’s coming from miles away and you’re not impressed once it arrives.

Little Italy

Little Italy is the Ready Player One of problematic stereotypes. Freeze the frame at any point and you’re bound to find a troublesome reference somewhere on the screen. Characters are the “most-est” of whatever trait defines them. The film’s Italians act like descendants of the couple in the “That’s a spicy meatball,” commercial, South Asians sneak curry powder into the cooks tomato sauce, and the gays are flamboyant.

Roberts’ Nikki is the only one that doesn’t act like a character out of some awful Moonstruck fan-fiction. I don’t buy her romance with Leo, but she isn’t as grating as the Muppets that run the pizzeria. She’s why this movie gets one star. Danny Aiello earns the other half star. He spends most of his time opposite Andrea Martin whose Jesus-loving Italian Nonna’s accent is more Romania than Rome – she sounds like a Hotel Transylvania voice actor.

Christensen’s Leo doesn’t bring anything to the table. His sleepy-eye version of sexy isn’t cool, playful, or slick. You ever meet a person and the moment you lock eyes with them you instinctively start speaking really slow and repeating things? That’s Leo. There is zero spark between the two young lovers. And that’s a huge problem since their will-they wont-they ordeal is the heart of the movie.

Little Italy

Little Italy plays like a movie from another era. Its sitcomy performances, reductive themes, and problematic humour, are 10-years too late. The hackneyed jokes come in three forms. One, Arltess: some jackass puts weed in the secret sauce and the pizza parlour turns into Coachella. Two, in poor taste: a cop places Leo against the wall and starts molesting him. And three, offensive: when a gay friend gives Leo a hug, he reaches down and snatches a chunk of ass, because apparently it’s funny watching gay men go around copping feels from their hetero besties. Hardy har har.

So, I ask the question: In an era of hypersensitivity, market testing, and internet lynch mobs, how does a film like Little Italy exist? At best, it’s a sentimental callback to a simpler era of sharing stories. A film too dumb to realize how dumb it is. At worst, it’s brazenly offensive. Either way, Little Italy remains a pandering, juvenile, and vexing film.

This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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