A Tourist’s Guide to Love, directed by Steven K. Tsuchida and written by Eirene Donohue, is a Netflix Original rom-com starring Rachael Leigh Cook as Amanda Riley, a travel company executive whose boyfriend of five years, John (Ben Feldman), asks for a “hiatus” instead of a marriage proposal, leading he to take the trip of a lifetime to Vietnam as a secret shopper for her company, which is considering buying the tour company in Vietnam.
A magical vacation is the perfect vehicle for a story about changing your perspective on love and life. Anybody who has taken a vacation to somewhere they have never been knows the way this type of experience can feel amazing, even transformative while it’s happening. We know the feelings might be fleeting, but what if they weren’t? What if that one special trip really could change your life forever? A Tourist’s Guide to Love, while simple in its plot and familiar in its pathways, captures that feeling perfectly.
I used to be a tour guide in college. I loved that job because it’s about two things: it’s about convincing people that something is great, sure, but a truly good tour guide also makes their tour about transferring a sense of belonging onto their tourees. Sinh (Scott Ly), the leader of Amanda’s tour, is a master of this craft. He makes everyone on that tour feel like they belong with him in Vietnam. They’re still getting a tourist’s perspective, but they get the sense that they’re seeing and experiencing parts of the country and its culture that “regular tourists” don’t. And through these tourists, the audience gets to feel that magic too.
I was worried that because he was so good at his job that the movie might take a different and familiar turn as far as his intentions with Amanda as their connection strengthens and their romance blooms. But fortunately, the movie goes along a stable and mature pathway. Sure, the whole premise of her trip is built on a lie, but their relationship isn’t overly burdened in its text by faulty communication. There aren’t even any annoying tour-mates on the trip, all of the other people in the group are quite endearing and their regular asides were sometimes more heartwarming than the main relationship was.
Because the main relationship, as much as I bought it, also didn’t send sparks flying. As the movie leans more heavily into Amanda’s personal growth than her and Sinh’s collective growth (Sinh remains a flat character the entire way through with no personal growth to speak of) their interactions just made me more glad for her than they made me glad for them together. Which isn’t a bad thing, it was a nice trajectory Amanda went on and it’s nice to see a man as a tool for a woman’s growth for once. But it would have been even nicer if I felt a bit more of a flame between them than the little ember we get.
My favorite character though was Anh (Thanh Truc), Sinh’s cousin who is the boss of the tour company in her father’s stead and comes in at all the right moments to remind us of it. She is a full-on character of her own, which feels remarkable considering this is a rom-com and there are already three people in the romantic thick and a best friend character in Amanda’s business partner Mona (Missi Pyle). But she has ample funny moments of her own to shine with personality and insight for both Sinh’s and Amanda’s sakes. Everyone in this movie is just encouraging of Sihn and Amanda’s getting together and I love that their own inhibitions and John are the only roadblocks.
As a vacation movie, I also have to appreciate that I, as the viewer, got to feel like I saw a whole lot of Vietnam too. The movie takes place in a diverse array of settings from different parts of the city to the temples of the mountainsides to the rural villages of the valleys. It’s not just a city-slicking romance, it’s really a whole vacation.
A Tourist’s Guide To Love makes you feel like the magic of a vacation could maybe last forever. It’s predictable, sure, but predictable isn’t a bad word when it comes to rom-com. There’s a comfort in knowing what the genre’s trappings will bring to bear, even when the movie’s well-explored theme of pushing comfort zones makes that statement a tad ironic. The romance at the movie’s heart didn’t always burn as hot as it could have benefited from, but Amanda’s journey on its own is worth it enough, and all of the characters around them are quite endearing too.
A Tourist’s Guide to Love is streaming now on Netflix.
A Tourist's Guide to Love
The romance at the movie’s heart didn’t always burn as hot as it could have benefited from, but Amanda’s journey on its own is worth it enough, and all of the characters around them are quite endearing too.