Netflix’s commitment to the rom-com genre marches onward with Falling Inn Love, a punny title that the movie tries to live up to with an exuberant Christina Milian, a small town of zany characters, and a very early ’00s sensibility. It’s not anything groundbreaking at all, and it is actually disappointingly vanilla in its lack of horizontal action (yes, that was a sex reference), but it is comforting and something you can waste 100 minutes watching during this long Labor Day weekend.
Director Roger Kumble, who directed the 1999 classic Cruel Intentions (I am not being sarcastic!) and who has since worked steadily in hour-long dramas like Pretty Little Liars and Suits, doesn’t challenge us in any way here. Everything is very softly lit and blocked like a prime-time sitcom (on ABC or NBC because there’s a Latina lead; certainly not CBS). When Milian’s Gabriela Diaz screams in frustration, we pan out so that the entire city hears her cry—a classic sitcom move. There’s a goofy singalong to Frank Nasty’s 1997 hit “Da’ Dip” (honestly the movie’s best scene). The locations are beautiful and oceanside. I mean, there’s nothing to really dislike in Falling Inn Love; its banal familiarity is not particularly memorable, but it is pleasantly inoffensive.
Falling Inn Love follows environmentally minded home designer Gabriela (Milian, who is somehow 37 years old, I am doing everything wrong with aging and she is doing everything right), who lives a seemingly perfect life in San Francisco—but there are cracks throughout. She works at a big firm, but it’s run by a group of jackasses who ignore her thoughtful pitches and pass her over to appease an investor’s son. She’s been in a relationship for more than 2 years with Dean (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), who takes a good selfie but orders for her at restaurants, won’t let her eat bread, and refuses to commit. And whenever Gabriela straps on her augmented-reality headset to exercise on her stationary bike, she’s riding through the countryside, surrounded by greenery, breathing in fresh air—the opposite of her urban life.
But after a series of appropriately ludicrous rom-com events, including one romantic ultimatum and one random online giveaway, Gabriela ends up in possession of an inn in New Zealand. Bellbird Valley Farm, with its wraparound porch and its green roof, looks beautiful and idyllic, and in the space Gabriela sees an opportunity to finally create the “100% solar-powered green housing” she’s dreamed of putting together her whole career. Goodbye, Dean! Goodbye, San Francisco! Gabriela hops on a plane, catches a few buses, and ends up at the inn—to realize, naturally, that the place is a dump.
Has Gabriela been tricked? Sort of! Does she get off on the wrong foot with the very hunky Jake (Adam Demos), the town’s best contractor who sort of looks like you scrambled the face of Sean Gunn, de-aged it a bit, and put it on a Very Hot Body? She does! And of course, Gabriela soon runs into the town’s cast of characters: jealous and uptight Charlotte (Anna Jullienne), who bristles at this American taking over a treasured local property; hardware proprietor Norman (William Walker), who is charmed that Gabriela nicknames him “Norm” (look, I did say that the script from Elizabeth Hackett and Hilary Galanoy wasn’t particularly original!); cafe owner Manaaki (Blair Strang), who teaches Gabriela a bit about his Māori culture; and plant nursery owner Shelley (Claire Chitham), who becomes fast friends with Gabriela.
Everyone becomes fast friends with her, in fact, aside from Charlotte and Jake: The former reveals herself as the sort of high-key shady villainess these rom-coms always have (judgmental, prissy, always wearing an overly floral church dress), and naturally Jake is just the right kind of challenge for Gabriela. He has a bit of a tortured past. He’s good with his hands (LOL, not apologizing for that) and he’s into history and reading old love letters and slowly but surely, his dynamic with Gabriela begins to change. He responds to her vision for the inn. He’s intrigued by her passion for environmental design. And unlike Gabriela, he knows how to deal with Gilbert the goat, who is terrorizing Gabriela with his omnipresence on the farm and his tendency to chew exactly the material Gabriela needs for a certain project.
Look, I cannot tell you Falling Inn Love is sophisticated. There’s a lot of very simplistic humor, like Gabriela sinking into her mattress on the first night and getting soaked with water from a broken faucet, and of course the typical rom-com dynamic of “Man teaches woman how to be more thoroughly herself” is in play here. But at least Gabriela’s career and her passion for her work factor majorly into the narrative, and Milian isn’t particularly nuanced but her performance is never flat.
Important complaint, though: We only see Jake shirtless, by my very attentive count, TWICE. Twice! This movie is nearly 100 minutes long! What is a little strange, actually, is how restrained Falling Inn Love feels in the sexy-time department. The characters kiss a couple of times, but don’t really seem to progress past that, and I’m not saying I needed anything naughty, but the vibe of Falling Inn Love overall is very gentle. The raunchiness of Always Be My Maybe isn’t present.
Still, Falling Inn Love is a good-enough “turn off your brain and watch pretty people be pretty together” diversion. I felt seen when Gabriela talked about craving “comfort carbs.” I too love the idea of having a picnic by a beach and reading old love letters with a very hot guy who adores you and is about to take his shirt off. The Kiwi lingo is mostly amusing, and yes, I did laugh whenever Gabriela screamed at Gilbert to stop chewing on something. Falling Inn Love isn’t high art, but it’s no Otherhood, and for that, we can all be grateful.
Falling Inn Love is streaming on Netflix as of Aug. 29, 2019.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix/Falling Inn Love, Netflix/Falling Inn Love, Netflix/Falling Inn Love