It’s impossible to be in Italy for the first time and not fall in love with something. The food, the culture, the people—the temptations intensify the more time you spend there, and the passion you see in others slowly starts growing inside you. It’s truly a magical country, and if you’re susceptible to its charm, it will quickly mesmerize you.
So, how could we blame the Texas-born Amy (a vivacious Zoe Saldana at her best) in the romantic miniseries From Scratch for falling hard for everything Italy has to offer? She’s in Florence to study art, to soak up the culture that pours out of every inch of the historical city, which was purposely built to awe travelers with its beauty and make a lasting impression. When she bumps into a Sicilian chef, Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea), at the corner of the piazza, she has no idea that what she sees is about to become her future, her fate, and her life.
Netflix’s hit tearjerker has no illusions about love. Its true story—based on Tembi Locke’s bestseller memoir—is rooted in authenticity. The constant, everyday challenges Amy and Lino face after falling in love in a fairytale-like scenario are cold, harsh, and very real. The difficulties they need to overcome aren’t carefully calculated plot twists, but genuine personal struggles that elevate the characters to a level where we empathize and fear for them. Once Lino moves to Los Angeles to be with Amy (after maintaining a long-distance relationship for a year and a half), reality strikes the couple like a bolt of lightning.
The cultural differences he faces in L.A. are universal to any immigrant. As a foreigner myself, I felt an immediate connection with Lino as he attempts to navigate this new path in America. It’s hard to restart your life in a place where you know you don’t belong. You have to be willing to change your personality to a certain degree in order to make it. You can’t be the same person you were in your home country, and that inevitably starts messing with your identity. You speak a different language every day, work at jobs that are beneath you (which you’re painfully aware of), and even the fellow countrymen you meet aren’t what you expect them to be. For a while, being an outsider feels like having a social and emotional jetlag that you can’t seem to shake off.
Nevertheless, Lino makes great efforts to stay above water: he works long hours relentlessly as a waiter, he supports Amy’s career ambitions, and whenever he’s got an ounce of free time, he experiments with new recipes and meals that one day may be served at his own restaurant. But, understandably, all this takes a toll on him, and he starts to doubt himself and his decision to move to the States. In any other story, this would be the moment when the seemingly indestructible love the two share begins to falter. But not in From Scratch. Amy recognizes how much her boyfriend struggles, since she knows the feeling intimately (it wasn’t that long ago when she was the outsider). Yet instead of resenting Lino for not being able to adjust to the circumstances, she finds a way to bring him a taste of home and reassure him that his decision was indeed the right one. In a city that has no center, she becomes his.
That’s when we know with a hundred percent certainty that the kind of love they have is boundless and unshakeable. It took me years to learn and fully understand that love and affection can come in many forms that aren’t always the kind you expect or necessarily desire. Lino expresses his emotions through cooking, making food with passion and delicacy, because that’s how he received it from his mother back in Sicily when he was a child. He communicates his feelings through actions. Amy’s love is more vocal and artistic, articulated through conversation, caring, and sharing. She grew up having a close and devoted relationship with her family, where words had real significance and impact.
In a way, this is precisely why their relationship—despite the ethnic contrasts and the conventional expectations from their families—forms a perfect whole. Lino and Amy have a space in their hearts that only a special person can fulfill. Thus it’s uplifting to watch them discover that specialty in each other, and see them thrive as they help one another through professional and personal setbacks.
So when they sit in the doctor’s office, on the brink of making their professional visions come true, and hear Lino’s diagnosis of rare soft tissue cancer, we know what they’re in for. Pain and misery. Yes, that’s very much a part of what’s going to come, but we also know that Lino and Amy aren’t the types of people who go down without a fight. If they’ve beaten numerous obstacles to be together, they will try to do just that to knock this disease down. Without revealing more, this is a turning point early on, when the series leans into its authenticity and pulls off a portrayal that avoids all the traps of being overly sentimental and saccharinely melodramatic. Although the second half is heart-wrenching, it also beautifully emphasizes the small nuances alongside the big moments: a traditional meal cooked with care, a goofy tale told by a father, or a phone call home to hear a loved one’s comforting voice. Even in its darkest and most devastating moments, From Scratch finds a way to convey the sometimes underestimated power of family that pulls together when you need it the most.
And for that particular quality, I believe the person who deserves the most credit is the one the actual story came from: Tembi Locke. Allowing the world to see the most intimate and hurtful junctures of her life, which made her the person she is today, takes real courage. She relived the moments that nearly destroyed her in order to learn how to move on from them. If you watch any of the multipleinterviews she has given, you’ll understand why she needed to write the book, why she insisted on shooting specific scenes at the exact same location where they took place 20 years ago, and why she embraced the most shattering tragedy that ever happened to her. Her emotional intelligence speaks volumes to the kind love that only the luckiest people experience in this lifetime.
But, of course, there are several other factors that played a role in making the series a potent mix of culturally rich and emotionally astonishing television. Without Zoe Saldana’s pitch-perfect performance, rooted in her own experience, being married to an Italian and speaking the language fluently, and Eugenio Mastrandrea’s kind tenderness and vulnerability, From Scratch wouldn’t be nearly as powerful. Without the sweetly compelling supporting cast, there would be no family to be (and feel) a part of. Without the breathtaking magnificence of Italy (and the richness of its native tongue), there would be no magic to be mesmerized by. All these elements honor the heartbreakingly affectionate story of From Scratch and make it one of the best romantic dramas of the year.
From Scratch is available to stream on Netflix.
Akos Peterbencze is an entertainment writer based in London. He covers film and TV regularly on Looper, and his work has also been published in Humungus, Frame Rated, and Fanfare. Akos is a Rustin Cohle aficionado and believes that the first season of True Detective is a masterpiece. You can find him talk about all-things pop culture on Twitter (@akospeterbencze) and Medium (@akospeterbencze).
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