Summer reissue: With Falling Inn Love, New Zealand gets its very own Netflix romcom – so how accurate is its depiction of small town NZ? Sam Brooks investigates.
This post was originally published on 29 August, 2019.
When the trailer for Falling Inn Love dropped earlier this month, I had my knives out, and so did the rest of The Spinoff office. A Netflix romcom set in New Zealand? Set in small-town New Zealand? There’s no way some clueless American was going to get anything right! It would be full of sheep jokes, 15-year-old Lord of the Rings references and maybe some awkward rugby jargon dropped in here and there. You know that scene in Airplane, where people keep telling a woman having a nervous breakdown to get a hold of herself, lining up with spanners, baseball bats, and even a gun to do the job? That was us approaching Falling Inn Love.
And so I embarked on a journey to get a screener of this film. I was Nicky Hager, and Falling Inn Love was my Judith Collins email. I wanted to see this film in all its wrong glory, make fun of it, and put my flag in the mountain as the Snarker Supreme. Bow down at my shade!
But, I have to be honest here, you guys: Falling Inn Love is as charming as a small town cafe where you can get a coffee for less than $4. For 98 minutes, I was won over by Christina Milian (of 2003 banger ‘Dip It Low’ fame) playing Gabriela, who wins an inn (?) online (??) by writing a 400 word essay while drunk (okay, relatable) and ends up going to New Zealand to fix it up. She runs into love/abs along the way, courtesy of Unreal twunk Adam Demos. It’s silly, it’s sweet, but it’s not quite disposable. It’s definitely the kind of film that you want to watch with your friends after you’ve all had a hard week, and alternately laugh and go ‘awww’ at the romantic misfortunes of some fictional characters.
Falling Inn Love gets a lot right about New Zealand – but there’s also some funny things it gets wrong. The kind of things you get wrong when you’re here for a month, rather than living your whole life here. Here’s a list of what it gets right, what it gets wrong, and what is just… plain weird.
The slang. My god, the slang.
Here’s a list of lingo that is correctly deployed in Falling Inn Love (I’ve never felt more cultural cringe than hearing Christina Milian try to get her accent around the words ‘hard yakka’):
‘Munted’, ‘Pack a sad’, ‘Chockas’, ‘did an OE’, ‘Trademe’
Look, I’ve never personally heard a Kiwi say ‘chockas’, but I know one of you has done it, and it’s a red mark on our collective national vocabulary.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way here right away: Adam Demos’ accent is straight-up Australian. We’re talking McLeod’s Daughters, Neighbours, shrimps-upon-the-barbie Australian here. There is no way he grew up in Beechwood Downs (the fictional small town the film is set in), unless his character Jake had a portal to the Aussie outback in his house and he spent most of his time on the other side. Even when Jake briefly tries to explain that he “spent a few years at uni in Australia”, it doesn’t fly unless by “a few years” he means “all the years I have lived”.
There’s a funny scene later in the film involving an actual Australian (played by a New Zealander) when another character exclaims, “An Australian!” and whether by accident or intention, she looks at Jake directly in the eye for a moment. It’s one of those moments where real-life meets up with fiction in a funny, uncomfortable way, much like the scene in Black Swan where Winona Ryder says, with zero irony, “You stole all my things.”
It’s funny how much Falling Inn Love’s version of San Francisco looks a whole lot like Auckland! It’s almost as though, if you had the inclination to do so, you could shoot scenes in Auckland with American actors, and New Zealand actors doing American accents, and pretend it’s San Francisco.
But only if you had the inclination to do so, of course.
The use of te reo in the film is pleasantly casual and unremarked on – Blair Strang’s character slips from English into te reo a few times, even using it to playfully trick Gabriela into thinking she called his mother a prostitute. Language comedy! Always an easy sell.
There’s also a short kapa haka performance later in the film, which causes Christian Milian to say ‘tino pai!’. It’s just like that time Meghan Markle spoke te reo, except I bet Christina Milian has to pay taxes.
At one point, Gabriela and Jake are driving down a small town road and listening to a beekeeping news radio station (which, sure). Gabriela turns the dial and ends up on a station that is playing… 1997 hit ‘Da Dip’ by Freak Nasty. Now, I know people, even in the bustling metropolis of Auckland, who can only get one radio station. There is no way in rural hell that Jake’s old busted-up ute would be able to find a radio station playing this song.
(Look, if this is the barrel I’m scraping to find things that the film gets wrong, Falling Inn Love is doing pretty well.)
This is a personal hang-up, but let’s go with it. The first people whom Gabriela meets in Beechwood Downs are two lovely gay men, played by Blair Strang and Jonathan Martin, who own a cafe/restaurant/pub hybrid.
Their specials are, quote: “The coconut curry mussels, the kumara gnocchi, the lamb chops, or the works.” Cut to a shot of… all of the above. Jake orders ‘the works’. Why?! What’s that going to do to your stomach, Jake? Why offer all these as one dish? Also, this cafe/restaurant/pub mutant also has a rugby night where people watch The Game™ under umbrellas outside? Do people do this? How? Why? Go inside, fictional Beechwood Downs residents!
A guy at a housewarming-slash-auction asks, “You wouldn’t happen to have a TV where I could watch the game, do you?”
I’ve been at a funeral where a man asked this, and can confirm, yes: you’ve nailed and skewered us, Falling Inn Love.
Nobody with any idea of New Zealand real estate would sell any plot of land in the Coromandel – where Beechwood Downs is hinted to be set, but honestly I have no idea where in the country it’s meant to be – for a four hundred word essay. No matter how cursed, haunted, or in desperate need of renovation.
Related: Jake paints literally half a stair – see below – after he agrees to help renovate the titular inn, and then decides to take a break. What kind of contractor does this? House owners who are currently renovating, do not @ me.
Claire Chitham’s character says that there’s a “blues club a few towns over”. Really?! A blues club? In 2019 rural New Zealand? In this climate change? I am dubious. Maybe she means an Auckland Blues club, a club for the Auckland rugby team known as the Blues.
Everything in Beechwood Down has cringe names like ‘Cottage Lane Cafe’, ‘Shoots and Sprouts’ and signs with bad, WordArt-level fonts. This is correct, and an indictment of our rural signwriting artistry. Sort it out before Falling Inn Love 2: Full Throttle, rural signwriting companies!
The scene-stealing goat Gilbert would have mauled Gabriela the moment they had their first encounter, when she finds him locked in a closet in the inn that she’s somehow won. Again, Netflix might have saved this plot point for the sequel, Falling Inn Love 2: Book of Shadows.
As Gabriela says late in the film: “I’ve learned that the Kiwi way of life is about fixing up what’s broken and treasuring what’s worth saving.”
True words. No words that any Kiwi has said, but true words none the less. Anyway, vote in your local elections, people.