The Rom-Com With a ‘Work Less’ Message

Netflix’s Falling Inn Love, starring Christina Milian, is the latest romantic comedy to set up frenetic professional toil as its villain.

Nicola Dove / Netflix

Gabriela Diaz, the protagonist of Netflix’s newest rom-com, Falling Inn Love, thinks the world is planted firmly beneath her feet. The San Francisco designer, played by Christina Milian, begins the film with a clear routine in place: virtual-reality-assisted stationary cycling, strict yoga sessions, grueling hours at a firm run by unappreciative blockheads, and carb-free dinner dates with her similarly vacuous beau, Dean (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman). But the familiar demands of this hustle wear on Gabriela, and soon she’s forced into a dramatic shift: Her company suddenly loses all its investors, and she breaks up with Dean after realizing he’ll never commit to her.

The dream of having it all wrested from her within a single week, Gabriela consoles herself with a Nancy Meyers–level volume of wine and enters an email competition offering entrants the chance to win a historic New Zealand inn. Bleary-eyed the next morning, she discovers she’s the improbable awardee. So begins her journey to entrepreneurship, love, and some much-needed zen, all against the picturesque backdrop of Beechwood Downs. There are few surprises here, but plenty of revelations.

Repeatedly, the film emphasizes the healing (and romantic) potential of its protagonist’s turn away from the constant rat race of professional life in San Francisco. It shares DNA with another recent Netflix original, the Ali Wong–led rom-com Always Be My Maybe. In that film, the actor and comedian plays Sasha Tran, a celebrity chef whose failed engagement to another industry power player allows her to rediscover surprising feelings for an estranged childhood friend (an HVAC technician played by Randall Park). Neither movie explicitly pits its protagonist’s professional aspirations against her ability to find romance, but both gently nudge their characters away from the pitfalls of constant toiling. Work isn’t the problem; the culture of obsession that surrounds it is.

In Falling Inn Love, Gabriela ultimately finds herself smitten by Jake (Adam Demos), the handsome contractor who helps her rehabilitate the inn. Jake teases her about her apparent refusal to consider that life in New Zealand could be more than just a break from the frenetic stateside pace she’s accustomed to. This isn’t a groundbreaking admonishment, nor is it a new tension to emerge in a rom-com pairing. Something New (2006), for example, saw the accountant Kenyan (Sanaa Lathan) shocked to find herself falling for her landscaper, Brian (Simon Baker). Romantic comedies have long featured class differences between professional women and their unexpected suitors—and the reverse as well.

But Falling Inn Love and Always Be My Maybe capture a distinctly modern sense of exhaustion: Their protagonists are ambitious, oft-underestimated women who have to work at everything. They are young, capable, hyper-focused, and seriously burned out Millennials. The films critique the Bay Area workaholism most explicitly through the women’s romantic partners. Always Be My Maybe’s Marcus, Sasha’s onetime friend and future lover, takes aim at the corporate artifice he sees her participating in. “Does it get tiring doing that?” he asks Sasha early in the film; while adjusting a vent in her massive home, he has overheard her on a business call. “It’s just funny because I know it’s not you, that voice.”

In Gabriela’s case, Jake expresses an even broader skepticism based on cultural differences in addition to temperamental ones. When Gabriela’s old boss calls her to offer her a job that would require her to move back to the Bay Area—“Finish up your Habitat for Hobbits and get on a plane” is how he puts it—Jake is shocked that his love interest (who’s also become his business partner) would consider such a regression. “Why would you want to work for a jerk like that?” he asks, before continuing the line of inquiry: “So that’s it? Back to America, back to the hamster wheel, working for some soulless corporation.”

The conversation leads to an icy split between the two. When Dean arrives following a sneaky scheme from a rival innkeeper, he offers to help sell Gabriela and Jake’s rehabbed inn to a foreign investor while simultaneously mocking the pair for their HGTV-esque efforts: “So you’re like a regular Chip and Joanna Gaines, huh?” he observes. Spurred partly by her irritation with Dean’s tech fixation, Gabriela decides to stay in New Zealand. (Again, this film has few surprises.) In her new life, there are handwritten love letters, hill-covered vistas, and even a “super chill” stray goat; she certainly doesn’t miss Silicon Valley. And for overworked viewers who can’t duplicate her move away from the hamster wheel, it’s still refreshing to see characters such as Gabriela find some peace.