There are cinematic events like Avengers: Infinity War—a record-breaking, multimillion-dollar crossover a decade in the making—and then there are cinematic events like last year’s Pottersville. If you haven’t heard of Pottersville, perhaps you’re more familiar with its summary—“the Michael Shannon furry Christmas movie,” which is exactly what it is, and which is why some corners of the internet couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The forthcoming film Little Italy falls in the latter camp of cinematic events, especially if you like your Romeo and Juliet–esque love stories with a side of garlic knots. Little Italy is a romantic comedy starring Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen as the adult children of two feuding pizza-making families who inevitably fall in love. The cast is rounded out by character actors you’d expect—or at least hope—could find better roles for themselves: Andrea Martin, Alyssa Milano, and Danny Aiello, who presumably walked into the audition room, said, “Don’t yous guys remember Do the Right Thing?” and was hired on the spot. According to the plot summary of Little Italy, Roberts and Christensen’s romance spawns a “pizza cook-off to determine who will be forced to leave town.” It sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit, but I assure you, it is a very real movie.
The internet, of course, is already very excited about Little Italy—as well as the return of Christensen, the sand-hating thespian of the Star Wars prequels, who in recent years was probably better known as “Rachel Bilson’s semi-attractive ex-husband.” That Little Italy is already a viral sensation shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s the poster, which is an unfortunate mix of poor graphic design—Roberts’s jeans make the billing block totally indecipherable!—and poses straight out of a freshman-orientation pamphlet. There are the set photos, which feature a Vespa, lots of pizza dough, and even a Mystic Pizza reference (Little Italy is from the same director, Donald Petrie). Little Italy will be my Infinity War; another great addition to the Good Bad Movie pantheon.
But before you start planning a Little Italy viewing party—complete with Totino’s Pizza Rolls and goblets of Franzia, of course!—I have some bad news: Little Italy does not have a U.S. distributor. Like me, you probably assumed the movie had somehow already been released—specifically because its whole vibe screams “straight-to-DVD classic”—but as things stand now, only those fortunate to live outside the borders of the United States will have the opportunity to see Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen fall in love over gooey mozzarella cheese and an easily licensed cover of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” (I’m guessing). What a travesty.
In the name of stateside cinephiles, the film needs to find a home in the U.S., so here’s a thought: Why doesn’t Netflix pick up Little Italy?
While the streamer isn’t starving for original programming—with 700 pieces of fresh content planned for this year, it’s downright gluttonous—the sheer quantity of options has caused many of its original films to fall under the radar, while simultaneously earning critical revulsion. Two weeks after the tepid response of The Outsider—the Jared Leto–led Yakuza movie, which itself is a horrible log line—came the similarly disappointing Game Over, Man! and its superfluous penis gags. And did you know there’s a new Adam Sandler movie costarring Chris Rock?
While Netflix’s movie slate from last year is better remembered for a handful of ambitious swings—Oscar-caliber films in Mudbound and The Meyerowitz Stories, and its first, fumbling blockbuster in Bright—the prevailing narrative of the 2018 Netflix movie has been centered on virality. Take the company’s release of Cloverfield Paradox on the night of Super Bowl LII. It was a terrible film, but Netflix perfectly executed a strategy geared toward creating a viral moment, capitalizing on advertising during the biggest entertainment event of the year to promote a buzzy new addition to its library based on an existing IP known for its cryptic online marketing. The (supposed) numbers speak for themselves: According to Nielsen data, around 5 million people in the States watched The Cloverfield Paradox in the week following the Super Bowl (the numbers account for only TV-connected devices in the U.S., so the number is likely higher). If you’ve watched one Netflix original movie this year, chances are it was The Cloverfield Paradox.
In that particular instance, Netflix took a flailing movie from a major studio (Paramount) and turned it into an event in and of itself; the actual quality of the film was a secondary concern. More than $50 million, the amount Netflix paid to acquire the rights to Paradox, isn’t chump change—even by Netflix’s spending standards—but it’s a small price to pay for a window of cinematic relevancy, when most current movies without “Marvel” or “Star Wars” attached to their names fail to garner acute attention.
That’s why a silly but viral movie like Little Italy is an ideal match for Netflix’s business model. (I’m also gonna assume it wouldn’t cost Netflix more than $50 million to acquire.) The movie has a small window of relevancy—which opened once people realized it was a real movie and began tweeting about it—that makes it better suited for a nontraditional rollout. Imagine if Netflix quote-tweeted one of the many incredulous responses to Little Italy by announcing that it had snatched it up and would be releasing it immediately. (Filming on Little Italy reportedly wrapped in 2017, so it’s presumably ready to go, or at the very least in the later stages of post-production.) Think about the service the company would be doing for all of us—and the press such a stunt would invariably earn.
This recommendation isn’t a slight to Netflix’s more prestigious ambitions; there’s still room for more Mudbounds in its future. But sometimes users want to watch something like The Christmas Prince (for 18 consecutive days, in 53 special instances), and that’s OK. The streaming service has the apparatus, the pull, and the wallet to capitalize on spur-of-the-moment trends in a way that other studios can’t. Netflix is the only one that can give us the Nancy Drew–Anakin Skywalker brick-oven love story when we want it, which is now and only now.