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“A Tourist’s Guide to Love” is as harmless as its blandly forgettable title would suggest. It’s not quite a Movie to Fold Laundry To, because the scenery is quite lovely, so you’ll actually want to pay attention. But it is a pleasant escape if you’re seeking lazy Saturday afternoon viewing.
Rachael Leigh Cook brings her perky rom-com presence to this made-for-Netflix movie, which checks all the boxes you’d expect from such a slick and glossy example of the genre. Slapstick comedy, fish-out-of-water gags, wacky supporting characters, copious shopping montages, a love triangle, a secret to be revealed and a last-minute dash to say “I love you”—they’re all there, but this time they’re set against the backdrop of present-day Vietnam, which gives “A Tourist’s Guide to Love” an unusual feeling of novelty.
Director Steven K. Tsuchida, a TV veteran, was also behind 2021’s “Resort to Love,” another Netflix romantic comedy set in a picturesque vacation destination. This is pure formula, but the leads have such a sweet chemistry with each other, and the locations are so enticing, that you may as well just surrender.
Cook stars as Amanda Riley, an uptight, Los Angeles-based travel agent living a safe and predictable existence with her boring accountant boyfriend, John (Ben Feldman). Amanda’s boss (and apparently only friend), Mona (Missi Pyle), insists John is going to propose to her. Instead, he tells her he’s taking a job in Ohio and putting their relationship on hold. (Julia Shiplett makes the most of a brief supporting role as Amanda’s unimpressed manicurist.)
Stunned, Amanda agrees to Mona’s suggestion that she travel to Vietnam undercover to scope out a local tour company with the possibility of her firm buying it. This is also her chance to eat-pray-love her way out of heartache. Plus, she’ll be there for the annual Tet celebration, which just happens to be all about renewal. Would any of this actually happen in real life? No. Would a spoiled hotel heiress actually hit her head on a tree at a ski resort, suffer amnesia and fall for the hunky, widowed dad who owns a charming bed and breakfast? Probably not. We don’t watch these kinds of movies for realism.
And so Type-A Amanda becomes part of a tour group led by the handsome and soulful Sinh (Scott Ly) and his effervescent cousin, Anh (Quinn Truc Tran). Screenwriter Eirene Tran Donohue tries somewhat to flesh out the motley assemblage of fellow travelers, but she saddles them with awkward small talk, and no one is terribly interesting. The inordinately prepared Amanda insists on adhering to the itinerary because she wants to get the most out of her covert mission, but the easygoing Sinh takes a more spontaneous approach which—spoiler!—Amanda eventually learns to enjoy. Sinh also happens to have just the right profound thing to say for every occasion, which speaks to the flux in which Amanda finds herself. (Example: “A tourist wants to escape life. A traveler wants to experience it.”) Again, these are familiar types, but Cook’s likability softens her character’s pushy, impatient traits, and the charismatic Ly’s understated delivery makes Sinh’s platitudes less cheesy than they might sound.
Working with cinematographer Jon Keng and featuring plenty of shimmering aerial shots, Tsuchida makes every stop along the way seem vibrant and appealing, from the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City to the beaches of Da Nang to the verdant hills of Sinh’s home village. “Doing nothing feels very weird,” Amanda admits while lounging under an umbrella by the sea, and truer words were never spoken.
“A Tourist’s Guide to Love” is essentially a travelogue with a plot, but you might actually find yourself caring about whether these two attractive-but-extremely-different people end up falling for each other in the end.
On Netflix now.
Rachael Leigh Cook as Amanda Riley
Scott Ly as Sinh Thach
Missi Pyle as Mona
Ben Feldman as John
Glynn Sweet as Brian Conway
Alexa Povah as Maya Conway
Jacqueline Correa as Sam Gonville
Nondumiso Tembe as Dom Fisher
Thanh Trúc as Anh