After more than 35 years of experience, every fiber of this professional journalist and critic knows better than to be drawn into such a silly and predictable film love in the mansion. And yet I loved every damn second of Mark Steven Johnson’s new rom-com for Netflix. Sure, it seems easy, to the point of self-loathing, but there’s also a reason Olive Garden is one of the largest restaurant chains in the country — and it’s the same reason you’ll see love in the mansion: It’s comfort food.
Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, love in the mansion It stars Kat Graham as Julie and Tom Hopper as Charlie. Julie is a good natured, super organized third grader from Minneapolis. She loves her job and her students, but can’t wait to visit Verona, Italy with her longtime boyfriend Brandon (Raymond Ablack). She’s pretty sure Brandon will propose to her on the trip. However, Brandon surprises Julie by ending their relationship. So she sets out on her own to Verona and arrives at the villa only to be in for another surprise: due to a mix-up, the apartment is double-booked and Julie has to share it with Charlie, a tall, handsome but insensitive Brit . They immediately collide, and so begins an ongoing battle that everyone but Julie and Charlie knows can only end… determination.
Stick to the clichés: there is no original idea anywhere love in the mansion. It’s as paint-by-numbers as any film ever made in all of cinema history. Julie loses her luggage at the airport. She ends up with a driver who drives like a madman and keeps appearing throughout the film. From the outside the property doesn’t look like it does on the website. And there’s a food fight, a supportive gay friend, endless Romeo and Juliet References (including Juliet’s house, the famous balcony, the iconic statue, the wall of love letters and the love locks), a drool-worthy montage of glorious delicacies, fly-by shots of famous landmarks, visits to a winery, coins inserted into a fountain, an impossibly beautiful estate, surprise visits from unexpected personalities – and more.
Also, Julie goes shopping and appears to be spending a fortune despite her teacher’s salary. Even the music leans towards the obvious, as we hear Italian versions of “These Boots Were Made For Walking”, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, “A Whiter Shade Of pale” and “I am A Believers.” And it all leads to romantic connections being almost missed before Julie and Charles realize they love each other. Not to spoil the movie, but this fairy tale has to have a happy ending. Though at 1 hour and 55 minutes love in the mansion is molto longo.
And yet you buy everything, thanks to Graham and Hopper. They’re both ridiculously beautiful to look at, and they share a romantic comedy must: chemistry. From the very first scene, sparks fly and enchant viewers, even if Julie and Charlie hate each other. There just isn’t a wrong moment between them and that makes the whole souffle stand out. I would see her in anything. (One wonders if Hopper’s real-life wife, Laura Hopper, who steals scenes in a central supporting role, feels the same way.) Meanwhile, a truly memorable line of dialogue notes: “The power in any relationship resides with the one who doesn’t care. Not particularly romantic, of course, but a powerful thought.
Mark Steven Johnson, the man behind it all, has written or directed (or both) a number of bad-good/good-bad films: Grumpy Old Men, Big Bully, Simon Birch, Jack Frost, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Steve McQueen find love guaranteedand when you are in rome. Strip away the fantasy element of the latter and it has a lot in common with this one.
In that case, if you’re looking for a fun, entertaining evening in front of the TV with your loved one, check it out love in the mansion. Admittedly, this film is to romantic comedy what Olive Garden is to Italian cuisine. But like a bowl of pasta the size of your head and unlimited breadsticks, sometimes generous helpings of something completely uncomplicated manage to deliver exactly the experience you crave.