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From Scratch Tells a Beautiful Story About the Triumph of Love

Zoe Saldana turns in a career-best performance as a woman rising above heartbreak.
  •  Eugenio Mastrandrea and Zoe Saldana in From Scratch. (Photo: Jessica Brooks/Netflix)
    Eugenio Mastrandrea and Zoe Saldana in From Scratch. (Photo: Jessica Brooks/Netflix)

    It really does sound like the premise of a romantic drama: When actress Tembi Locke traveled to Italy for a student exchange program, she met Saro Gullo, a Sicilian who swept her off her feet. After a whirlwind romance, the couple moved to Los Angeles to start their new life, even though Saro’s family disapproved of him marrying a Black American, non-Catholic woman. They stayed together until 2012, when Saro died from a rare form of cancer. The loss inspired Tembi to write a memoir that chronicles not only her time with Saro, but also her travels back to his hometown after his passing. And now, with the Netflix limited series From Scratch Tembi has partnered with her sister, writer/producer Attica Locke, to adapt her story into a powerful examination of love, family, identity and community.

    Zoe Saldana stars as Amy Wheeler, who travels to Florence to study art and quickly meets Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea), a chef. The chemistry between them is undeniable, but complicated. For one thing, they’re both disappointing their parents. Amy’s father Hershel (Keith David) is a civil rights attorney who wants her to go law school, while Lino’s father wants him back on the family farm. Meanwhile, Amy is upper-middle class while Lino comes from a humbler background, something Hershel makes painfully clear when Amy brings her parents to the restaurant where Lino works. However, the heart wants what it wants, and the connection between Lino and Amy is deep. They’re more than just lovers: They’re artists who find solace in each other.

    This story is well served by the limited series format. Over the course of eight hourlong episodes, the show explores both Amy and Lino’s love affair and the nuances of their fractious families. The specificity of Black American and Sicilian cultures is portrayed authentically and treated with respect, finding the humor in the differences but never playing them for cheap jokes. This adds heft to the scenes where Lino and Amy must contend with their respective family dysfunction. Lino’s parents, for instance, partly disapprove of his marriage because Amy is Black, and the show doesn’t shy away from how ugly those reactions can be. Meanwhile, Amy and her sister Zora (Danielle Deadwyler) are stuck in a tug-of-war between their New-Age mother Lynn (Kellita Smith) and their stepmother Maxine (Judith Scott), who stepped in to raise Zora and Amy when Lynn divorced their father and left the family. We see each of these characters fall apart and come together, and when they finally do, the reconciliations are earned.

    The empathetic storytelling also lets the characters change and grow, demonstrating that family ties are often less about biology than the choice to show up for the people we love. For instance, we see how Lino’s fight against cancer affects everyone in his life, and there’s a particularly raw honesty in watching Amy realize she must become both the breadwinner and her husband’s caretaker.

    Saldana, who was handpicked by executive producer Reese Witherspoon, does some of her best work in this series. She is married to Italian artist Marco Perego, and her real-life experience beautifully serves the role, particularly when Amy must navigate two languages. Mastrandrea is tender and soulful as Lino, and he’s convincing as a romantic leading man, a loving father, and a vulnerable cancer patient facing his mortality. Deadwyler, who is currently getting critical acclaim and Oscar buzz for her role in Till, embodies the frustration of being the dependable, overlooked sibling. In one memorable scene, she confronts Amy about her selfishness and recalls giving her lunch money to Amy when they were kids. “I didn’t eat,” she says. “So while I was taking care of you, who was taking care of me?”

    Small moments like this make the dynamics among the characters feel real. We may know how Amy and Lino’s love story will end, but in telling it with such care, From Scratch challenges us to reevaluate our expectations of love. It asks us to see that romance can be a pathway to letting our biological and chosen families bring deeper meaning to our lives.

    From Scratch streams October 21 on Netflix.

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    Rebecca Theodore-Vachon is a tv and film critic whose work has been featured in Harpers Bazaar, Shondaland Magazine and Indiewire. Follow her on Twitter at FilmFatale_NYC.

    TOPICS: From Scratch, Netflix, Attica Locke, Danielle Deadwyler, Eugenio Mastrandrea, Keith David, Reese Witherspoon, Tembi Locke, Zoe Saldana