Everybody Wants to Be Italian


Everybody Wants to Be Italian

If you'd had five cups of coffee out of this cup, your eyes would be as wide as saucers too.

(Roadside Attractions) Jay Jablonski, Cerina Vincent, John Kapelos, John Enos III, Dan Cortese, Richard Libertini, Penny Marshall, Marisa Petroro. Directed by Jason Todd Ipson

I will admit to having a more than passing affection for Italian culture. Not only do I love the cuisine (hey, I make a wicked lasagna), but I love the sense of family and belonging that is part and parcel of being Italian. Like most non-Italians, I have a bit of an inferiority complex.

Jake Bianski (Jablonski) is not Italian. He’s Polish as a matter of fact, but he owns an Italian fish market with Italian co-workers; Papa Tempesti (Libertini), the patriarch, Gianluca Tempesti (Enos), the ladies man, and Steve Bottino (Kapelos), the amateur psychologist. Jake is single but has a thing about Isabella (Petroro), the girl he broke up with eight years before. Even though she’s married and has three kids, Jake is positive he’s meant to be with her.

Of course, his buddies have all sorts of advice for him, being the caring sorts that they are. Also being busybodies, they set Jake up at a singles club for Italians, even though he’s not Italian. There he meets Marisa Costa (Vincent), a veterinarian who is also not Italian. Both of them claim they’re Italian just to justify their presence at the dance; they wind up going on a date. At the date, stupid Jake can do nothing else but talk about Isabella. Of course, Marisa figures that the two of them are still an item.

Thus they set out to be just friends, and as it turns out, they become good friends. They’re both good people and they have a lot in common. By the time Jake figures out that he wants more than friendship with Marisa, Isabella gets back in the picture.

This is Ipson’s second feature and it’s not bad, not really. Sure, it has loads of romantic comedy clichés and certainly the humor is uneven but there is a kind of offbeat Italian charm to it that kept my interest. There is a surfeit of Quirky Indie Characters to keep the filmmakers indie cred, but I can live with that.

The main leads – Jablonski and Vincent – have enough charisma and chemistry to keep the rooting interest alive. One of the big problems with romantic comedies is that often the leads are cast either because of their notoriety or because of their look. Here, it appears that Ipson tried to put two actors together who worked well together, and their relationship becomes believable; thus as the film progresses you want them to be together.

Does this pander to Italian stereotypes? The answer is yes to a large degree, but it’s never in an offensive way. These aren’t goombahs (at least to my way of thinking) but the kind of Italian you’d find in South Boston; abrasive but with a heart of gold. Nobody shoots anybody and to be honest, I loved spending time with these people, even the non-Italians.

Because the script doesn’t really go too far beyond what I would consider the standard romantic comedy fare, I had to give this a lower ranking than I might have ordinarily. I would have liked the filmmakers to go beyond the stereotypical romantic comedy situations and maybe used their ethnic choices more to their advantage. That worked wonders for Moonstruck. As it is, this isn’t My Big Fat Greek Wedding so much as it is My Big Dumb Italian Courtship. And, as we all know, the Italians are far more expert at love than the protagonists here. Don’t believe me? Get thee to Venice unbeliever!

WHY RENT THIS: There is a good deal of offbeat charm to the movie.   

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The humor quotient is a bit uneven and the romantic clichés fall a bit thick and fast.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality and a good deal of sex talk, making this a little bit much for the younger set.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cerina Vincent went from playing the Yellow Power Ranger on television to becoming a scream queen in movies like Cabin Fever.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The audition tapes for some of the lead actors are there for the perusing.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Changeling

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The Amateurs


The Amateurs

Jeff Bridges goes on a junk food binge while Patrick Fugit captures it on video for the tabloid shows.

(First Look) Jeff Bridges, Ted Danson, Lauren Graham, Joe Pantoliano, Jeanne Tripplehorn, William Fichtner, Patrick Fugit, Tim Blake Nelson, Glenne Headly, Steven Weber, Brad Garrett, Isaiah Washington, Eileen Brennan. Directed by Michael Traeger

It is a human need to feel like one has accomplished something. Success breeds self-confidence; the lack thereof breeds its opposite.

Andy Sargentee (Bridges) is one of the latter. He has gone through scheme after scheme with a spectacular lack of success. His wife Thelma (Tripplehorn) has divorced him and remarried Howard (Weber), a millionaire. His son is understandably impressed by his new father-in-law but he still loves Andy for who he is. Love is one thing, however; respect is another.

Andy feels like he has to do something to get his son’s respect. But what to do? He ruminates for several days in a local tavern, his friends and neighbors, knowing Andy’s penchant for harebrained schemes, steer well clear as best they can. At last, Andy hits on an idea: porn. Not only that, amateur porn. It generates billions of dollars in revenue on the internet; why can’t the good townsfolk of Butterface Fields grab a slice of that tasty pie?

Of course, talking about it is one thing. Assembling a cast and crew is quite another. Most of Andy’s buddies share a distinct tinge of loser in their make-up, but all are game and are all on board. Some Idiot (Pantoliano) whose name is…well, it’s too much to go into right here but trust me, it’s apt…lobbies for and is made the writer/director of the budding skinflick. Then there’s Otis (Fichtner) who wants to feel a part of the movie but doesn’t want to screw it up is given the executive producer title. And let us not forget Moose (Danson) who is gay and is blissfully unaware that everyone knows, and Barney (Nelson), Andy’s best friend who pines away for Helen (Headly); they are both producers. Their best asset, however, may be Emmett (Fugit), who works at the video store and has taken some filmmaking classes. So deeply has the bug bitten him that he carries a small videocamera wherever he goes, documenting everything.

However, the stumbling block is getting actors – particularly actresses. There is no shortage of willing male participants but there are few women in town who are – ahem – photogenic that are willing to be schtupped on camera in living color for the world to see. Even if they do get enough women to make the epic porno they have in mind, can these lifelong screw-ups pull it together to actually make the film?

First-time director Traeger has assembled an impressive cast, led by the redoubtable Bridges. This is a role that Bridges can play in his sleep and often has; Andy has a great deal in common with characters Bridges has played in The Big Lebowski and The Fisher King. He’s good-hearted and a little bit off the deep end. He is supported with some pretty impressive actors, all of whom ooze charm.

Charm is not what this movie is short on. What it is short on is laughs. I don’t have a problem with a movie relying on quirky characters for its humor but there is a dearth of truly funny moments and jokes, not a good sign for a comedy. Still, there is enough to make it through.

The narration of the movie tends to drag it down. Bridges is a charming enough narrator but the movie relies too heavily on it. I would have preferred less explanation and a little more action, to quote the King.

While the subject matter is certainly titillating, there’s little overt sex. It’s true that most of the film’s actresses, particularly those involved in the porno (Hedley, Melinda Dahl and the veteran Valerie Perrine, too long absent from the big screen) are easy enough on the eyes, there’s no nudity to speak of (except that which is implied).

I have to admit that the film’s charm won me over. I know the small town with the eccentric citizens is a bit of a hoary cliché, but when it is done well – as it is here – it can be a very entertaining conceit. While the movie is far from perfect, I enjoyed my visit to Butterface Fields and wouldn’t mind a return visit.

WHY RENT THIS: Quirky and relentlessly good-natured, the movie handles the sensitive subject matter flawlessly. Bridges is intensely likable in a role he can play in his sleep.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie relies overly much on the narration and some of the humor doesn’t work. Too many characters make for too many subplots.

FAMILY VALUES: The subject matter is a bit much for kids, even if it is handled humorously. The language, however, is a bit foul.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the characters were named after characters from “The Andy Griffith Show.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Friday the 13th (2009)