I learned some things while on the telly-watching rounds this week.
I discovered nobody in the history of the world has ever wanted to win Celebrity Treasure Island more than Matty McLean . I also concluded that watching teams renovate stairwells on The Block NZ is exactly as dull as it sounds.
But most importantly, with the arrival of the movie Falling Inn Love on Netflix, a story about an American woman winning an inn down under, I finally learned what New Zealand looks like through a traditional, syrupy romantic-comedy lens.
It was always going to be a strange fit for a country more accustomed to quirkier rom-coms, where romantic leads do things like form unhealthy attachments to injured ducks ( Love Birds ) or attack their wheelchair-bound lifelong nemesis with nunchucks ( Eagle vs Shark ). Still, it's a hoot seeing how New Zealand stacks up in the rom-com bubble that is Falling Inn Love.
Singer-turned-actress Christina Milian stars as Gabriela Diaz, a San Francisco businesswoman dealing with halfwits at the office and a jerk of a boyfriend named Dean (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman).
In the same week the company she works for goes belly up, Gabriela also finally twigs she can do better than have dinner with a man who shouts "No bread!" at their waiter. But instead of stabbing Dean with her butter knife at that dinner date, she dumps him, drinks a bottle of wine and enters an online contest to "Win an Inn in New Zealand".
Approximately two minutes later, she's winging her way to Auckland as the proud new owner of The Bellbird Valley Farm, an inn that's in desperate need of fixing up and is apparently run by a goat named Gilbert.
From this point, it seems Falling Inn Love's screenwriters scoured New Zealand's Wikipedia page so as to cram in all the local clichés they could muster. A sheep is heard bleating almost as soon as Gabriela steps foot in the country. A man is seen watching the rugby on his laptop in her new local café. And, yes, those godforsaken hobbits also get a shout-out further down the line.
Kiwi viewers will soon recognise plenty of local faces in Gabriela's new fictional home of Beechwood Downs, including her new bestie, Shelley, played by Claire Chitham, and an interfering rival inn owner, Charlotte, played by Anna Jullienne.
New Zealanders will also notice that the leading Kiwi man is, in fact, an Aussie. Adam Demos plays Jake Taylor, "the best contractor in the North Island" (did he win a competition or something?), who becomes the object of Gabriela's affections after she begrudgingly hires him to help turn Bellbird Valley Farm into an eco-friendly, solar-powered paradise.
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Jake's Australian accent is plain as day and he further gives away his true lineage when he brings a VEGEMITE SANDWICH to a picnic made up of New Zealand treats. (How dare you, Netflix.)
But once we push all these antipodean details aside, Falling Inn Love is still the most standard of rom-coms. Every plot point can be predicted from a mile away as it ticks off the genre's usual tropes — learning to love after tragic past relationships, finding old love letters, comically falling on top of each other during the renovations… you get the idea.
The only difference is it's all done with a bit of New Zealand vernacular thrown in — "sweet as", "yeah, nah" or "munted" — and thankfully some te reo Māori, too.
Milian and Demos do a fine enough job as the film's lovebirds, while Chitham was apparently born to play the classic rom-com best friend role — although none of them can hold a candle to Gilbert the goat, who steals every scene he's in.
But even whimsical animals can't save this project, because nothing can take away from the fact that Falling Inn Love is garbage. Softly lit, beautifully shot, wonderfully scenic garbage.
It's still nice to see New Zealand through Netflix rom-com eyes though. Towards the end of the film, for example, Gabriela says: "I've learned that the Kiwi way of life is about fixing up what's not working and treasuring what's worth saving."
It's a declaration that makes you feel warm and proud inside for all of two minutes, before you flick on the radio or glance at Twitter to hear and see many of those Kiwis either denying climate change or howling about giving hungry children a free school lunch.
If only Netflix's vision of New Zealand really did exist, eh?
Falling Inn Love is available now on Netflix.