Zoe Saldaña Discovers The Importance Of Family Under The Florentine Sun
Jan 11, 2023
Based on a memoir by Tembi Locke, who developed the miniseries with her sister Attica Locke (“When They See Us”), “From Scratch” is a heartfelt, if sometimes overlong, story of two very different families becoming one through love and loss. Anchored by a strong lead performance from Zoe Saldaña, whose depth keeps the series from becoming a walking live, laugh, love sign. The book was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club selection and this adaptation falls under her Hello Sunshine producing banner, and you can feel her touch ever so lightly. Although the plot easily becomes mawkish, there is an intelligence and veracity wrapped within the show’s sleek and cozy shell.
READ MORE: ‘From Scratch’ Trailer: Zoe Saldaña Falls In Love Abroad In New October-Set Netflix Miniseries
Saldaña plays Amahle “Amy” Wheeler, a recent Georgetown Law graduate who decides to take a six-week art course in Florence before beginning her career as a lawyer. Of course, while there she not only finds her calling as an artist – she also finds the love of her life in Sicilian chef Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea). The two realize that as a Black American and a Sicilian working in Northern Italy they have more in common than they realized. “I’m your center. You’re my center,” Amy assures Lino as they embark on their cross-continental journey together.
Over the course of the show’s eight episodes we follow Amy and Lino’s relationship from their meet-cute on the streets of Florence in the year 2000, to Amy getting a job at a fancy gallery in L.A., to Lino relocating to be with her, their storybook wedding, the adoption of their daughter, and finally Lino’s battle with cancer. The opening scene foreshadows Lino’s fate, as does the real story of Locke, whose life has been fictionalized here. Despite this ticking clock, there’s pleasure in watching the evolution of Amy and Lino’s romance and all the storms they weather together. Also, Saldaña’s slow mastery of the Italian language, from her early broken sentences as a tourist to her fluency as a part-time citizen by the end is truly impressive.
Amy’s family, hailing from Houston, Texas, is already blended. Her mother Lynn (Kellita Smith, “The Bernie Mac Show”) and her father Hershel (Keith David, “The Thing”) have been acrimoniously divorced for years, while her stepmother Maxine (Judith Scott, “Snowfall”) often still feels like an outsider despite raising Amy and her sister as her own. Amy’s older sister Zora (Danielle Deadwyler) acts as a peacekeeper for the entire family, often taking on more than she should. As the show progresses Amy relies on Zora for more and more emotional support, without providing anything in return. This tension and its release provide some of the best scenes in the entire show. Deadwyler is having a banner year and her talent is as evident here as it is in her awards-worthy performance in “Till”.
Continuing the theme of complicated families, back in Sicily, Lino’s father (Paride Benassai) has disowned him for turning his back on his family’s land and traditions as he pursues life as a chef. This brings nothing but grief to Lino’s mother (Roberta Rigano). As these two come in and out of Lino and Amy’s life during the latter half of the series while he deals with cancer is heartbreaking and real. Rigano could easily have played an Italian mother stereotype, yet she brings a truthfulness to this strong woman that strikes a deeply emotional chord.
Filmed on location in Florence, Sicily, and Los Angeles, these places become characters in and of themselves. The romance of Florence augments the connection Amy and Lino feel when they first meet. The sprawl of Los Angeles perfectly showcases how unmoored Lino feels in their life there. The vibrancy of Sicily caps off the series on a wonderfully buoyant note. Directors Nzingha Stewart (“Little Fires Everywhere,” “Tall Girl”) and Dennie Gordon (“What a Girl Wants”) imbue each episode with warmth and love for their characters, during both their triumphs and their tragedies.
This warmth also comes through in the way food is shot and used as an emotional language throughout the series. Lino expresses his love through cooking, and yet often this love is discarded and overlooked by those who do not realize what it represents for him. Mastrandrea does much with his eyes and body language to express the hurt he feels when his food is disrespected. While the through-line of food as love could have been executed a bit stronger, there is a joy in watching this blended family finding comfort in their company together over many, many meals.
One of the only flaws in this entire recipe is the dialogue. It’s often too flowery and occasionally cloying, which clashes with the honest and raw emotions at the story’s core. It especially finds itself treading treacly waters in the latter scenes as Lino succumbs to his cancer and Amy must carry on as a mother despite being weighed down by grief. However, the cast is so strong that they bring more nuance to the performances than is found in much of the dialogue.
Fans of other travel memoirs turned emotionally charged cinema like “Under The Tuscan Sun” and “Eat Pray Love” will find another heartfelt trip in “From Scratch”. Although due to the traumatic aspects of Amy and Lino’s story, they may not find the show quite as escapist as those two. Instead, they will find a tribute to the strength of family and the importance of finding a place – and people – who make you feel like you’re home. [B]
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