Sometimes, you just need a fluffy diversion when you’re watching a movie. It’s why the Hallmark Channel is so popular. There’s nothing on there, except fluffy diversions.
Netflix has begun offering selections that are quite similar. In fact, there’s a healthy mix of movies that emulate both Hallmark and the Lifetime networks. Some are good, and some are atrocious. I knew that whichever camp “Falling Inn Love” fell in, it would be the fluffy diversion I needed.
The film stars early 2000s R&B star Christina Milian as Gabriela, a young woman who decides her life is in dire need of change. She’s a designer in San Francisco, who specializes in gray water technology — think recycling dishwasher water to water a garden — who abruptly finds herself out of a job when her firm loses its investors. She also finds herself abruptly single when she dumps her boyfriend of 2½ years, Dean (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman), once she realizes he’s commitment phobic and that their relationship is going nowhere.
Gabriela enters a pay-to-play contest in which the winner becomes the proud owner of a historic inn in New Zealand. (Spoiler alert: She wins.)
Once she arrives in NZ, she discovers her dream inn is rundown and decrepit. She also meets the standard characters you expect her to meet. There’s the handsome handy man, Jake (Adam Demos), and token shop owners in the small town who find her city ways to be foreign and must adjust to her as she adjusts to them. There’s the generic shop owner she becomes friends with, the generic — albeit gay — coffee shop owners she visits regularly and, of course, the hardware store owner, all of whom become her friend and give her goods seemingly for free.
The handsome handy man has a broken heart after losing the love of his life, or rather the replaceable love of his life. Gabriela enlists Jake’s help to renovate the inn. They can’t stand each other, but slowly find themselves becoming friends and, of course, something more.
Don’t get me wrong. I knew what I was signing up for when I hit “play” on “Falling Inn Love.” My boyfriend’s mother — a Hallmark addict — already had watched the film and declared it to be standard Hallmark fare. And maybe it was. There were elements of most every film you’ve ever seen on the channel. The sassy female lead, the BFF who tells her to follow her heart, the leading man she doesn’t get along with, and the colorful townspeople that become like family to her.
I wanted that fluffy distraction. I wanted to get lost in Jake and Gabriela’s story. But, aside from Gilbert the Goat, who claims the inn as his own, there just wasn’t anything remarkable about “Falling Inn Love.” Everything was formulaic, and while films like this are meant to be formulaic, it wouldn’t hurt to put in a little bit of an effort, ya know?
The villain — the owner of the town’s B&B — isn’t even a little dastardly. Everything is tied up in a neat little bow, from beginning to end. From near kisses to a shirtless Jake — it’s gratuitous and serves no point, but why not? — everything feels like it’s just checking off a box on a long checklist that’s been compiled from various contemporary romance novels and films.
I know, you might be thinking I sound silly expecting too much from a film like this. I wasn’t expecting award-winning quality, but I also wasn’t expecting to be bored. While the cast does its damnedest to be sincere in these roles, I found my mind drifting as I tried to remember a Milian hit. She’s my age, so I’m sure I heard her music when I was younger. The film just couldn’t hold my interest. (A YouTube search after the movie proved I only knew one song, and it wasn’t even hers but rather a JaRule number she helped out on.)
There were moments that were sweet, and there were even moments that were funny. But, for the most part, the sentiment felt heavy-handed, and I found myself thinking “Hallmark does it so much better.” Granted, I don’t watch those movies very often, but when I have, I’ve always found myself sucked into them. They’re predictable and formulaic, but they’re also almost always endearing on some level.
While Netflix has knocked it out of the park with several of their TV shows, I find myself struggling with their movies again and again. Some of the originals like “Bird Box” — the book was better — or “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” — this one did the book justice — have been great. Others have faltered, whether in conception or execution.
Bottom line: “Falling Inn Love” is fluffy and earnest. While you might be willing to give it a chance, it’ll have you questioning whether Netflix’s romance offerings are going to take you out on a second date, or you’ve got better things to do like wash your hair.