The modern romantic comedy has long treated novelty like a venereal disease, fleeing any thought of invention as it foists the same tired, rigid formula on viewers content to consume familiar pap dressed up in slightly different duds. Still, if the average studio rom-com offers little of worth aside from the occasional endearing performance (and no, I don't mean you, Ms. Bullock), there's something even more noxious about the strain of ethnic-indie romances pioneered by 2002's smash hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which charmed audiences by taking recognizable conventions and spicing them up with broad, brash stereotypes. It's this subgenre to which Everybody Wants to Be Italian belongs, since Jason Todd Ipson's film is a lovey-dovey fantasy in which every character is an Italian cliché save for the two protagonists, who both pretend to have descendants in the Old Country because they think the other does. This posing-as-an-Italian conceit is fluffy silliness, and barely mined for humor or drama, as the writer/director instead introduces this central plot point and then immediately relegates it to the far background of his unoriginal tale of two unlikely people discovering that they're, in fact, soul mates.
In Boston's North End, 27-year-old Jake (Jay Jablonski) owns and runs a fish market staffed by loudmouthed older friends Steve (John Kapelos) and Gianluca (John Enos III), the former a psychology student prone to quoting Freud and the latter a guy's-guy who bluntly talks about sex but, later on, develops an interest in studying English literature. Jake too has a defining quirk - every year, he buys flowers, a new suit, and an engagement ring for Isabella (Marisa Petroro), an ex who dumped him eight years earlier for cheating and is now married with three kids. This obsession is supposed to make Jake lovably kooky, but in reality it makes him a gratingly immature clown, the type of contrived goofball who could only exist in a screenwriter's mind. One night, Steve goes into the alley behind the market and discovers veterinarian Marisa (Cerina Vincent) looking for her cat, a chance encounter that leads Steve and Gianluca to set Marisa up with Jake at a local bar's Italian Singles Night. The two hit it off, though their subsequent first date doesn't go as planned, thanks to Jake's knuckleheaded decision to tell Marisa that he's still involved with Isabella.
From there, romantic tensions grow more intense as Jake and Marisa, two lonely hearts fated to find happiness in each others' warm embrace, struggle to maintain hope in love despite seemingly insurmountable odds. Or, to be more accurate, they decide to be "just friends," platonically hang out, make googly eyes at each other, affix glow-in-the-dark stickers to the ceiling of Marisa's bedroom, and engage in other activities too brain-numbingly mundane to recount. Ipson repeatedly has his protagonists say the words "soul mate," as well as has Steve and Gianluca bawdily counsel Jake on the proper way to woo an Italian woman, with Jake eventually going so far as to pay for therapy sessions with Steve. Both Jake and Marisa are also given advice by elderly Italians - Papa Aldo (Richard Libertini) tells Jake that "everybody wants to be Italian" and Mrs. Abignali (Judith Scarpone) informs Marisa that "Italian men never, never marry a girl who's not Italian." Everybody Wants to Be Italian goes overboard with such dialogue, only occasionally interrupting its "Italians are like this, Italians are like that" blather so that Jake can make comments about "homos" and repeatedly tell Marisa that veterinarians aren't real doctors.
As the fishmonger, Jablonski mostly exudes frat-guy dim-wittedness, which sabotages any chemistry between him and Vincent, whose likeable Marisa is far too smart and successful to be credibly interested in Jake. Ipson doesn't care about making you believe his story, however, since - on the basis of his script's paint-by-numbers plotting - he's proceeding from the assumption that moviegoers will swallow whatever he supplies so long as it conforms to their rom-com expectations. This Everybody Wants to Be Italian does in spades, setting up hackneyed relationships, conflicts and resolutions with such a lack of imagination and subtlety that paying attention to narrative particulars quickly becomes a waste of time. Given that absolutely no non-Italians ever actually express an interest in being Italian, Ipson strangely never makes his title's case. Nonetheless, by tediously adhering to his subgenre's tattered stereotypes-are-adorable blueprint, he does convincingly communicate his own desire to be Nia Vardalos.