Monday, September 24, 2007

­BFF: Everybody Wants to Be Italian

Tuesday night at the festival was mostly dedicated to low-profile stuff that was shot locally. I guess that the night's big draw was Stiffs; they had to move it from theater #18 to #2. I missed that, because the folks who made the schedules had it arranged so that Everybody Wants to Be Italian would have had to start right on time while Stiffs started late to get to both (that night's other early option, Million Calorie March, would have let me see Stiffs, but didn't excite me too much, even though I wound up seeing it anyway come Friday). That didn't happen

It's not always the best stuff, but it does tend to be well-attended. Shoot in the North End, and it's just a quick walk for the local cast, crew, and crew's family to the Boston Common theater. I believe that the people running the festival have day jobs with the Massachusetts film board, so these are likely the films that they're most aware of, at the very least. I hope that doesn't mean that next year's big event is a world premiere of the Pink Panther sequel.

Everybody Wants to Be Italian

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2007 at AMC Boston Common #17 (Boston Film Festival 2007)

Everybody Wants to Be Italian is a delightfully slight romantic comedy. The film has a cute hook but isn't held hostage by it, there are only one or two characters who aren't at least occasionally funny, and the main relationship has its ups and downs without being melodramatic. This isn't likely to make anyone think it's the golden age of Hollywood again, but it does tend to deliver what it promises.

Jake Bianski (Jay Jablonski) is Polish, not Italian, despite living and working in Boston's North End. As the film opens, he's making ready to propose to Isabella (Marisa Petroro) for the eighth time, which is doomed for a very good reason. This is really starting to get on his co-workers' nerves, so when veterinarian Marisa Costa (Cerina Vincent) shows up behind their shop looking for her cat, they're quick to invite her to the local Italian-American Club, not realizing that she's Spanish. So he's getting instructions on how to woo an Italian woman, she's being told what to expect from an Italian man, and they don't agree on what they want from each other at any given time.

The whole "mistaken ethnicity" thing is a fun way to get Jake and Marisa together, and it lurks in the background to remind the audience that there's a certain amount of deception in this relationship. It is, thankfully, not all the movie has going on story-wise and is in fact more or less forgotten for a while, so anybody wincing at the expectation of the movie leaning on a bunch of stereotypes for humor will probably be relieved. Sure, "cocky guy with a high school education woos smart and classy lady" is a bit of a cliché itself, but it's one that you can do more with.

Part of what keeps the movie going is that there's a group of fun supporting guys. The other guys in the fish market are reliably amusing. John Kapelos's Steve Bottino is just finishing up his doctorate in psychiatry and tosses Frued around but does so in macho neighborhood vernacular. John Enos III does good back and forth with Jablonski and Kapelos; Richard Libertini is dryly amusing as "Papa Aldo". Marisa doesn't have nearly as good a supporting cast as Jake - basically Judith Scarpone as the neighbor tutoring her in the fine points of being Italian. Ben Livingston has a few great little one-liners in his one sequence as a colleague of Marisa's. Marisa Petroro and P.J. Marino are also pretty good, making what could be an unpleasant storyline amusing.

It starts out amusing, at least, but the way Isabella and Mario figure into Jake's and Marisa's story after about the halfway mark drags the movie out a little. It's the sort of thing that the audience is willing to swallow as funny in an offbeat way, but it moves things sideways as much as forward. Still, what writer/director Jason Todd Ipson does there is unexpected, and he's got a knack for going in different directions without going off the deep end. There's clever little bits in the early scenes that I'd normally put in the synopsis, but they were too much fun to discover.

Jay Jablonski is part of most of them; although Jake's not stupid, he's clearly also not the guy who is always going to do the smart thing. Jake's got to come off as a little bit of a punk, and a little bit deluded, but not so much that we don't buy it when he finally figures out what's what. He does pretty well by it, even if he's not quite the conventional leading man. Cerina Vincent's Marisa is a bit more conventional, and makes a fun foil for Jake: She's given a lot of "my biological clock's ticking and I don't have time for screwing around" stuff, but she also has a few moments where she has to throw Jake and the audience off-balance, and she always delivers.

I admit, Everybody Wants to Be Italian got some bonus points from me for being partially filmed in Boston (just a few blocks from the theater where it screened) and because the previous two nights of the festival had featured movies that covered some of the same ground poorly (The Metrosexual and Good Luck Chuck). Those are just factors that mean I enjoyed it more than I might have otherwise; even in a vacuum, it's still an enjoyable little comedy that's worth a look even if you don't recognize the stars.

No comments: