For those keeping score at home, I called it. Netflix getting into the Victoria Justice business was a smart play for both parties. Give her suitable, wholesome, flirty and sassy parts and she’ll deliver and Netflix will be the richer for it.
“A Perfect Pairing” is a nice step up from her first film for Netflix (“Afterlife of the Party”) and a big step in the right direction for fixing her Hallmarkish brand with the streaming service.
The Doris Day of Netflix is a perky, quick-quipping young Latina.
In “Pairing,” she plays a wine broker, someone who lines up wineries for her importing firm and lands contracts with tony restaurants to be their exclusive supplier. Lola may not run the place, but even the insufferable boss (Craig Horner) has to see her as his star. Lovelorn Lola — she’s divorced — will go to great extremes to close a deal.
She’s tipped about an Australian “hobby” winery owned by a Fortune 500 CEO that may be ready for the big time, and is ready to pull the trigger when a back-stabbing colleague (Lucy Durek) steals her thunder. The boss just smirks at this “lesson learned.” Cue Lola’s quit-in-front-of-the-entire-office “Norma Rae” speech.
“I would rather sell margueritas in a can at a suburban SEVEN ELEVEN than spend another minute with you!”
She’ll set up her own business, play up her heritage and use her contacts and “moxie” to make Salud Imports a success. That means she’ll gamble on an AirBnB visit to Oz to be near enough to the elusive Hazel Vaughn (Samantha Cain) to make her pitch.
That elaborate set-up is just here to send Victoria Justice Down Under, park her on remote (but verdant and mountainous) Waratah sheep station, where she ends up having to hire on as a “jillaroo,” a stockhand “because we don’t have cowboys in Australia.”
Hunky Max (Adam Demos) runs the place and he’s one jackaroo short. As it is one of the businesses CEO Hazel owns, a family ranch where she takes a sabbatical every year, Lola shifts from tourist who just made a failed pitch to the boss, to the female stockhand, a “jillaroo,” who’ll help them get through shearing season.
“I pay attention,” she declares. She’ll do the “grunt work, hard yakka,” because she does not quit and “I do not fail.”
We’ll see about that.
Screenwriters Hilary Galanoy and Elizabeth Hackett — team “Falling Inn Love” and “Love Guaranteed”– may be no one’s idea of the new Nichols and May. But they give Justice the situations, and possibly even the funny lines — although Justice makes the best stuff sound improvised — to succeed.
Lola instantly attempts a livestock ranch no-no. She wants to name the sheep.
“Meryl SHEEP? Calista FLOCKhart? BAArbra Streisand!”
A feel-good movie of the Hallmark Channel persuasion — and that’s all this ever aims to be — only requires good looking and compatible leads, a lovely location and in this case, lots of local color in the form of Oz folkways and Oz slang
Lola must learn her “blunnies” (boots) from her “barneys” (bar fight), what it means to be “up the duff” (pregnant, used re: sheep) and how to endure the local cuisine.
“What exactly IS Vegamite?”
Justice makes a fine fish out of water, generating just enough PG-13 lust at the shirtless Max, whose superpower is a ready supply of inspirational aphorisms.
“When it comes to hard work, some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses and some don’t turn up at all.”
I don’t know, maybe it’s watching two little girls grow up adoring”Victorious” and recognizing comic timing that wouldn’t abandon her as an adult that has me rooting for Justice. There’s a niche she fills here, one that Netflix was wise to go after — chaste, low-cost Hallmark Channel romances.
“A Perfect Pairing” does exactly what a simple feel-good romance should do, and Justice gives us a heroine worth rooting for. The “low hanging fruit” jokes land, and the situations — a campfire sing-along, a bar dance-and-sing-along to Aussie band Jet’s one-hit “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” followed by a boozy “barney” — adorably embed Justice with amusing Oz cliches.
It’s not that ambitious, but it’s perfectly executed by Justice, her little-known supporting cast and veteran TV director (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) Stuart McDonald.
I’d say it’s good enough that maybe Ms. Justice can start a little arm-twisting — get her studio to spend a little more on writers, co-stars, etc. That’s how Doris did it.
If they’re smart, they’ll see this “Perfect Pairing” as the first of many.
Rating: TV-14, alcohol, sheep dung gags
Cast: Victoria Justice, Adam Demos, Luca Asta Sardelis, Natalie Abbott, Emily Harea, Antonio Alvarez, Lucy Durek, and Samantha Cain.
Credits: Directed by Stuart McDonald, scripted by Hilary Galanoy and Elizabeth Hackett. A Netflix release.