Starring Rachael Leigh Cook and Scott Ly, A Tourist’s Guide to Love is a Netflix rom-com with untapped potential.
There’s something quite enchanting about a vacation romance. On a holiday, we get to leave behind our routines and discover who we are outside them. Who would you be if you weren’t at the office in the afternoon, but rather at the beach sipping a margarita? And what if someone else saw you for the person you’re becoming? What if they loved you for this other side of yourself?
A Tourist’s Guide to Love has all the familiar workings of a standard vacation rom-com. When Amanda’s (Rachael Leigh Cook) boyfriend of five years seems to have something planned for her, wedding bells go off in her mind. Much to her disappointment, and to the disappointment of her freshly manicured nails, he’s not asking for a wedding so much as he’s asking for a relationship break. A heartbroken and newly-single Amanda is looking to move on and finds the perfect escape in her tour company’s assignment to go undercover in a foreign country. All set for healing and rejuvenation, she heads to Vietnam and eventually meats Sinh (Scott Ly).
Sinh is the tour guide of the company Amanda’s organization wants to acquire. And of course he’s the man she’s going to fall for. He’s easy-going, adventurous, and confounds all of Amanda’s expectations about this excursion. The rest of the movie dedicates time how Amanda experiences Vietnam over a budding companionship with Sinh. A Tourist’s Guide to Love utilizes the classic trope of a by-the-book woman and a carefree man who helps her step outside her comfort zone. These are the ingredients of a splendid rom-com, one that should be on the right side of cheesy, but it ultimately doesn’t work.
What could have been an interesting and compelling romance between two opposites unfortunately remains on the surface. A movie like this promises crackling chemistry and sizzling banter. Instead, the film develops the romance through dialogue that aims to be insightful but more often comes off as corny. For example, when Amanda compliments Sinh on being good at his job, he takes a deep breath and says, “[I’m] savoring the moment. My first Amanda Riley compliment.” Sure, weak flirtation can itself be fun dialogue, but not when it’s attempting and missing the mark in cleverness.
As supposed opposites, Amanda and Sinh rarely appear to be more than their contrasting features – careful and free-spirited, respectively. The banter and jokes revolve around these traits without organically delving into other facets of their personalities that subvert the tried-and-tested formula. In the absence of natural intimacy between the characters, their romance is not the swoon-worthy vacation love one would hope to escape into when tapping the Netflix thumbnail.
The movie could have also tapped more strongly into the conflict of interest between Amanda’s job and her heart. Amanda takes notes of the tour service throughout the film, and the conflict peppers in every once in a while, like when she avoids telling others about her job. But while the movie frequently reminds the audience of this tension, it rarely shows it sufficiently. So when everything finally comes to a head, it is not as gripping or cathartic as it should’ve been.
A gorgeous setting.
Had we been on edge from the start through more near slip ups and peeks into Amanda’s anxiousness, the anticipation would have risen to an absolute peak. At such a point, the final reveal would have been exciting, maddening, and relieving. The audience knows it coming, so playing with the thrill and building the tension effectively is a must.
The film does a good job, however, of presenting Vietnam beautifully. As someone who has never been to the country, the landscape is lusciously picturesque, complemented by interesting instances of cultural differences. The supporting cast members – Sinh’s cousin and grandmother, Amanda’s boss, and fellow tourists — bring glimpses into different phases of life and makes for a more interesting setting. On occasion, Amanda and Sinh can be cute too, such as when their inside jokes come full circle in an otherwise rote romance.
While the premise, setting, and sub-plots of A Tourist’s Guide to Love are independently interesting, their potential remains under-utilized when brought together for a brisk 96 minutes. If only we could root for Amanda and Sinh with ease, and then it would have been a film worth placing into rotation for many a movie night.
A Tourist’s Guide to Love will be available to stream on Netflix starting April 21. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Netflix
A TOURIST'S GUIDE TO LOVE - 5/10