'Love Wedding Repeat': Film Review

Love Wedding Repeat Still - Publicity - H 2020
Ricardo Ghilardi/Netflix
A tired arrivederci.

Sam Claflin and Olivia Munn star in Netflix's Rome-set rom-com about how the element of chance in alternate versions of the same nuptials rules another couple's union.

The credited adaptation source for Love Wedding Repeat might be a minor French comedy from 2012 called Plan de table, but the model for this strained opera buffa is two Brit hits from the 1990s: Sliding Doors and Four Weddings and a Funeral. From the first comes the idea of parallel realities, their varying permutations dictated by chance; from the second, well, it's right there in the new film's title. Writer-director Dean Craig clearly worships at the altar of Richard Curtis, whose diluted DNA is all over Netflix's rom-com about an obstacle course of ceremonial chaos along the path to blissful union.

Almost every character here can be mapped back to a counterpart in Curtis' screenplay for Four Weddings, starting with Jack (Sam Claflin), an Englishman who keeps tripping up on his stammering charm, and the elusive American girl of his dreams, Dina (Olivia Munn). Claflin is agreeable enough, but he's no Hugh Grant. His hair's just not floppy enough, to begin with. On the plus side, Munn is no Andie MacDowell, either, so while she can't do much with the contrived script and scene after scene of studied awkwardness, she at least has a certain relaxed luminosity. Unlike the majority of her fellow cast, she doesn't try too hard.

Craig is a film and TV writer best known for the 2007 comedy Death at a Funeral, which again had a whiff of Curtis-lite, and his first feature directing gig doesn't exactly display the lightest of touches.

Coronavirus lockdown is causing many of us to crave comfort viewing, and a '90s throwback with attractive people struggling to unravel romantic entanglements in a gorgeous setting should be just the ticket. But there's a difference between pleasing familiarity and derivative staleness. There's just too little wit here amid all the cutesy misunderstandings and farcical mayhem to make Love Wedding Repeat anything but tedious froth. With Friends reruns now playing on a constant loop, audience time would be better spent revisiting "The One with Ross's Wedding," in terms of comedy covering similar territory.

In a brief prologue set against some cosmic screen-saver, a voice identified in the end credits as The Oracle (Penny Ryder, presumably because Judi Dench cost too much) reflects on the precariousness of love in a universe ruled by chaos and chance, "where all it takes is just one moment of ill fortune for all your hopes and dreams to go right down the shitter." That kind of decorous vulgarity is a major component here, along with more puerile genital jokes than your average frat house.

The film proper opens with sumptuous postcard views of Rome in all its sun-kissed splendor, images that now bring a pang of melancholy as hard-hit Italy sits out the fifth week of its shutdown. Jack has been visiting his sister Hayley (Eleanor Tomlinson) in the Italian capital on the same weekend as her friend Dina, a journalist between assignments in "war-torn hellholes." He's instantly smitten and she appears to feel the same, but he summons the nerve to kiss her too late, and the moment is lost.

Fast-forward three years to the same city on the day of Hayley's wedding to Roberto (Tiziano Caputo), who is the sole Italian character of any significance, yet given zero personality. Guests converging on the magnificent old villa where the ceremony and reception are to take place naturally include Jack, who becomes a bundle of nerves once he discovers that due to a last-minute shift in her schedule, Dina will also be in attendance.

The title of the source material translates as "Seating Plan," which sets up the multiple-outcome scenario thanks to some mischievous kids switching up the place cards at the table for English-speaking guests. So rather than avoiding his hostile ex Amanda (Freida Pinto), Jack gets stuck alongside her, while Dina is stranded next to Sidney (Tim Key), a thumping bore who is not Scottish but wears a kilt to allow for endless jokes about testicle discomfort. There's also Hayley's male "maid of honor," Bryan (Joel Fry), an actor hoping to impress a star-making Italian director with a man bun (Paolo Mazzarelli); quirky Irish friend Rebecca (Aisling Bea); and Amanda's barely tolerated new beau Chaz (Allan Mustafa).

The women generally are more memorable than the men, with some mild amusement generated by Pinto's withering scorn and Bea's salty irreverence. But all of them are types rather than interestingly developed characters, and only Dina has a shred of backstory. It's even unclear what took Hayley to Rome, beyond this being an English-Italian co-production.

Tomlinson nonetheless emanates bridal radiance, and like Munn, makes for pleasurable company. But her ecstatic pronouncement, "Nothing could spoil this day," is an instant cue for disaster. It arrives in the form of her cokehead ex Marc (Jack Farthing), who crashes the wedding, determined to convince Hayley she's marrying the wrong guy. Early mentions of the knockout sleep meds Hayley has been taking to stay calm through the frenetic preparations are like Chekhov's gun, and sure enough, a plan to silence loose-cannon Marc by drugging him goes badly awry. Jack is enlisted as chief troubleshooter.

The Sliding Doors effect hinges on the numerous different ways eight people can be arranged around a table, and how those switches variously impact the outcome of the day. Craig dispenses with most of them in a quick mid-film montage or over the end credits, dividing the majority of the action between one catastrophic series of events and another that goes right, culminating in Jack seizing his chance and making the inevitable mad dash across the cobblestones to declare his feelings. Spoiler alerts would be pointless since only someone who has never seen a rom-com won't know what’s coming.

The lack of buoyancy or originality is somewhat ameliorated by the glossy visuals and pretty locations. But even the strenuous assist of pieces by Rossini, Mozart, Verdi, Bellini and Debussy can't inject much class or authentic life into this artificial confection.

Production companies: Notorious Pictures, Tempo Productions
Distributor: Netflix

Cast: Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Eleanor Tomlinson, Freida Pinto, Joel Fry, Tim Key, Aisling Bea, Jack Farthing, Allan Mustafa, Paolo Mazzarelli, Tiziano Caputo, Penny Ryder
Director-screenwriter: Dean Craig, based on the film Plan de Table, directed by Christelle Raynal and written by Francis Nief and Raynal
Producers: Piers Tempest, Guglielmo Marchetti
Executive producers: Jo Bamford, Andrea Borella
Director of photography: Hubert Taczanowski
Production designer: Alessandra Querzola
Costume designer: Uliva Pizzetti
Music: 14th Street Music
Editor: Christian Sandino-Taylor
Casting: Susanne Scheel

100 minutes