Matilde Gioli and Matteo Martari star in "Four to Dinner."

Matilde Gioli and Matteo Martari star in "Four to Dinner." Credit: Netflix

MOVIE "Four to Dinner"

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Interrogating the question of whether anyone can have a single soul mate, the Italian romantic comedy "Four to Dinner" unfolds over two alternate timelines where the four single friends of a couple pair up with each other.

One timeline finds Matteo (Matteo Martari) and Giulia (Matilde Gioli) falling in love after Giulia becomes pregnant with their baby. In this same universe, Dario (Giuseppe Maggio) and Chiara (Ilenia Pastorelli) become friends who mutually harbor even stronger feelings and begin an extended will-they-or-won't-they flirtation.

These plotlines are interwoven with a second potential series of romantic outcomes, where Matteo woos Chiara and Dario and Giulia begin a relationship.

The movie from director Alessio Maria Federici and screenwriter Martino Coli is now streaming on Netflix.

MY SAY This movie makes sense from a conceptual standpoint — sure, why not intersect these plotlines together, have beautiful people fall in and out of love, throw in some platitudes about destiny and pack on the cliches.

There's an audience for that, especially since the romantic comedy genre has fallen on hard times lately as a large segment of the movie business focuses exclusively on superheroes.

But some ideas are best left unrealized, and no matter how fine "Four to Dinner" might have sounded on paper, the reality of having to endure this for about 100 minutes is much different.

In its most basic sense, this genre depends on the audience becoming invested in the characters on-screen to the point where it's possible to feel some of the same catharsis they do when the inevitable finally arrives, and they end up together.

It's impossible to get there in "Four to Dinner," because these are some of the least interesting movie characters imaginable. They barely even have personalities. The actors do what they can, but there's just nothing to these ordinary people living ordinary lives in picturesque settings.

Their romantic entanglements almost seem purposefully boring — it's impossible to care whether one character joins another in Lisbon or not, or to be particularly invested in the question of how supportive Matteo will be as a father. The filmmaker fails to conceive of a surprising character detail or plot twist.

Throwing out the gimmick might have helped on some level. The constant jumping between timelines, in service of some vague point about fate, only further dilutes the impact of any single plot thread.

But it's all just so painstakingly bland.

The actors are given reams of dialogue in what seems to be an effort to compensate for this, but which end up detracting from attempts to tell the story using the visual tools of cinema. Throwing in a reference to Plato's "Symposium" doesn't actually make you smart. Sometimes, a little bit of quiet goes a long way.

BOTTOM LINE A new romantic comedy is always welcome, but you'd be better off re-watching "When Harry Met Sally..." than bothering with "Four to Dinner."

Top Stories