Published Aug 28, 2018They don't make rom-coms quite like they used to. From the '80s through to the early aughts, the films were full of meet-cutes and eternal love, and Hollywood churned out a steady stream of hits that frequently seemed to star either Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts. But when was the last time a traditional rom-com made a big splash? We live in a post-Apatow world, where the gritty realism of Love or The Big Sick is the dominant style.
Enter Little Italy. From its retro promotional poster to its wacky story of warring families, this Toronto-set rom-com is decidedly old-school. There's even a blooper roll during the credits. This retro feel is something that star Emma Roberts fully embraces.
"There was definitely a big throwback feel to this movie," she acknowledges during a conversation in a Toronto hotel room. "It has tones of My Big Fat Greek Wedding with the whole family dynamic. But that's kind of what I fell in love with, because we're in a time right now where I think we could all use a little romantic comedy and a little nostalgia."
Roberts refers to the late '90s and early '00s as "the best time for rom-coms," and she credits Little Italy director Donald Petrie with evoking the vibe of that era. She calls him "the king of romantic comedy directors," namedropping his past films How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Mystic Pizza (the latter of which starred Roberts' aunt Julia Roberts).
"I feel like he really knows the formula to making a romantic comedy," she says of Petrie. "He really encouraged the push and pull between the characters, which I think worked out really well. It's the classic rom-com, where they're both on different pages at different times, and then we hope they get on the same page by the end."
Little Italy is a tale of two families running rival pizzerias in Toronto. The proprietors were previously best friends and business partners, but they fell out decades ago, which makes it awkward when a connection begins to blossom between their children Nikki (Emma Roberts) and Leo (Hayden Christensen). The pair were inseparable as kids, but these days Nikki is training to be a chef in London. When she returns home to Toronto to sort out some visa issues, she links up with her old buddy and sparks fly.
A romantic subplot also emerges between the grandparents of the two families, Carlo (Danny Aiello) and Franca (Andrea Martin). These elderly characters deal with Catholic guilt and conflicted feelings about their late spouses, making for a funny and touching love story of a kind that rarely graces the silver screen.
"It shows where Nikki and Leo could grow to one day — if we believe in the happily ever after, which I like to," Roberts says of this senior love story. "It really shows that love is timeless, love is ageless. You never know what's going to happen."
With Little Italy out now, Roberts is setting her sights on her next projects. She's been filming the latest season of American Horror Story, and she just wrapped up work on a dystopian drama called Paradise Hills. Despite these gritty projects, Roberts hopes it won't be too long before she signs up for another cheery rom-com.
"I'm such a sucker for romantic movies and romantic books," she gushes. "I'm the biggest Nicholas Sparks fan. To get to turn one of his books into a movie is on my bucket list."