If your Instagram feed is anything like mine, it has been filled with pictures of almost everyone you know romping around Greece and Italy this summer. It has been hard not to be a little jealous, so I was excited to see that Netflix had released “Love & Gelato,” which I hoped would scratch the travel itch. The beautiful setting and delicious food should have done the trick, yet the movie fell flat. A young girl adventuring around Rome before college falling in love with herself and Italian boys, where could this go wrong?
The issue with “Love & Gelato” boils down to the main character, Lina Emerson (Susanna Skaggs), being unlikable. After planning to spend the summer in Rome with her mother, Lina’s hopes are disrupted when her mother dies of cancer after years of struggling. Lina no longer wants to travel. However, she is obligated to as it was her mother’s dying wish that Lina still go. While it is understandable why Lina is having difficulty adjusting to a new reality without her mother, she acts as if going to Italy is the ultimate punishment. I should have felt more sympathetic to her situation but Lina is not a character that attracts sympathy. She is determined not to enjoy herself which makes it difficult for the viewers to enjoy what is around her. Her attitude towards the genuinely sweet supporting cast and the beauty surrounding her in Rome is soured by her belligerence.
One of the ways this becomes clear is how she treats everyone who tries to show her kindness. She is resentful of almost all the good things given to her. She is particularly ungrateful to Howard Riley (Owen McDonnell), a friend from her mother’s past. There are moments where her suspicions of him are justified, but Lina never apologizes for embarrassing him in front of an audience. He continues to support her, and she eventually accepts his kindness but never learns from her experience. Lina does not realize how fortunate she is to have an immediate supportive community after moving abroad and squanders the positive attention. I wish she had recognized what a gift this community was to her. The people around her, like Howard, were endearing so it was frustrating to see Lina reject their kindness most of the movie.
Lina and her mother also perfectly fulfill the stereotype of being “not like other girls” while being exactly like other girls. They both enjoy photography and happen to speak Italian perfectly. The mysterious aura around her mother is intended to make the viewer interested in her past. Instead, it becomes annoying over time. Everybody seems to love her but no one will say why. Just like Lina, her mother seemed to have wasted the goodwill of her friends and returned their kindness with ingratitude, like when she left Italy unexpectedly without saying goodbye when she was Lina’s age. This irritated me because this pattern of ingratitude seems to extend across generations. Lina also tries to find supposedly unique experiences like eating gelato or taking pictures of ruins that almost every tourist experiences. The viewer is supposed to believe that she is learning to be just like a local, but she seems to be only learning how to enjoy an Italian vacation. The takeaway is supposed to be that Lina is having an authentic experience, but my takeaway was that she was having a surface layer experience during her time.
Along with being grumpy about most of her adventures, she is also extremely nervous in every situation. She regularly recites statistics about how dangerous everything is to the annoyance of everyone around her. Her nervousness is not the real problem here. What is problematic is how she is supposed to confront her fears. One of her love interests, Alessandro Albani (Saul Nanni), tries to push her outside her comfort zone, which is admirable but he does so by encouraging her to do things like run through doors and trigger the fire alarm without regard to the consequences. I thought breaking obvious safety measures was a weird way to build confidence. Many of the other things Lina tried to build her confidence also struck me as odd. She should absolutely try to go through life with less fear but should not be reckless with it. While it is annoying to watch, it is understandable why Lina would be influenced by a new crush. It can also be difficult to learn which boundaries to test and which ones to leave alone. For example, I enjoyed seeing her overcome her fear of traveling alone which was major progress for Lina especially since she meant to travel with her mother.
Overall, I wanted to love this film but, unfortunately, Lina’s ingratitude towards those showing her kindness, recitation of safety statistics, strange risk-taking and confusing actions toward her love interests made it difficult to enjoy watching her adventures. I had a similar experience several years ago trying the book of the same title by Jenna Evans Welch. I had to put the book down halfway through because I was annoyed by Lina but I hoped that the adaptation would smooth some of her edges out. All of the wonderful side elements of the movie should have made for a fun summer flick. The scenery, costumes and food were all stunning and would have made a great background for a more likable main character. The supporting characters were endearing and she did grow towards the end but she remained selfish in how she treated her multiple love interests. “Love & Gelato” was not entirely without bright spots but I wished I had seen more growth from Lina so I could like her story more.
“Love & Gelato” is available for streaming on Netflix.
By Ella Hachee