- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 18, 2003

“The Bread, My Sweet” is amateurish cause for alarm, fumbling around with ingredients that could be likened to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Fortunately, the Pittsburgh-based novice Melissa Martin precludes a celebratory wedding finale that might have secured the resemblances and made her fortune.

While consorting with an Italian-American family whose activities revolve around a neighborhood biscotti shop, Miss Martin elects to kill off a major character and place her final bets on mawkish sappiness rather than ribald domesticity. This command decision may have cost her a lucrative sleeper. It won’t prevent “Bread” from getting on the nerves of spectators who wander in with foolish expectations of either professionalism or discretion.

Clearly, the moviegoing culture favors erratic tendencies. On one hand, a mainstream Hollywood farce such as “Down With Love” goes overboard while accentuating the artificial. On the other, a low-budget independent tear-jerker such as “Bread” accentuates the dismal and counts on rudimentary human interest to excuse a ramshackle presentation, distinguished by such inept photography that a potentially savory emphasis on baked goods and meals is consistently ruined by sickly lighting schemes and unflattering angles.

Evidently, Miss Martin’s previous experience has been concentrated on theater work in the Pittsburgh area. Her cinematographer seems to have considerable experience in wildlife documentary. Both seem clueless when positioning or toting a camera around rooms in which actors are supposed to simulate close personal or professional relationships. “Bread” demands an audience that can get all choked up even when the director and crew are turning the movie into a sustained outtake.

Scott Baio plays the lead, a prince of a guy named Dom Pyzola whose favorite hangout is the Biscotti Co., where he employs his brothers Eddie (Billy Mott) and Pino (Shuler Hensley) as bakers and protects the elderly upstairs tenants — Bella and Massimo (Rosemary Prinz and John Seitz), emigrants from the Abruzzi region decades earlier. So many decades, to judge from Bella’s recollections of being a teenager in Italy during World War II, that you begin to wonder if she could be the mother of the thirtysomething daughter attributed to her, Kristin Minter as wandering Lucca, destined to return from several years of Peace Corps service in Mexico.

Quite a few subplots compete for bewildering prominence in “Bread.”

Dom is supposedly living a double life as a cutthroat corporate vice president in downtown Pittsburgh. After baking happily in the early morning hours, he unhappily serves as the designated forecloser, doing the dirty work of a heartless executive board. Miss Martin never comes close to making that ruthless day job look plausible. Lucca’s Peace Corps credentials sound pretty unlikely and don’t even merit a token depiction. Adorable, angelic Bella has been neglecting terminal stomach cancer, an oversight that would be better suited to the mulish, foul-mouthed profile of her spouse Massimo, who seems to enter with one foot in the grave.

Too busy for romance, Dom gets it into his head that Bella’s last days would be brightened by the prospect of marriage between Lucca and himself. You can’t be certain Bella shares this notion, because Dom is kind of a surrogate son. Moreover, she flatters Lucca effusively for being a modern woman who doesn’t need a man. Nevertheless, the charade of a whirlwind romance and engagement between the young people is enacted, on the grounds that it will be richly gratifying to the doomed mother.

As if these calculations aren’t pathetic enough, Dom must placate the wounded feelings of Pino, a lovable hulk who also happens to be somewhat retarded. He flips when finally informed of Bella’s grave condition. Evidently, Mr. Hensley enjoyed a triumph when playing Judd Fry in the recent Broadway revival of “Oklahoma!” You would never suspect it from his blubbering excesses as Pino, but Miss Martin does seem a great one for belaboring morbid and sorrowful outbursts, so perhaps he was led astray.

There’s also an awful lot of Miss Prinz acting wise and valiant as the quietly suffering Bella. It seems impossible that this can be her first movie role, although the promotional material claims that it is. Soap devotees may have a special incentive for taking the Bella worship in stride if they go way back with Miss Prinz, who played the ingenue Penny Hughes on “As the World Turns” in the late 1950s. Her smile and cheekbones retain their girlish appeal, but the more the film resorts to them, the more you wish someone had purged the screenplay of its shameless streak.

Of course, the script might not have emerged without a shameless streak. Every so often you suspect that Miss Martin might have lost her way while trying to revamp Garry Marshall’s estimable comedy with Tom Hanks, “Nothing in Common.”

If “Bread” defies the odds and becomes a rabble-rousing juggernaut, it’s conceivable that Miss Prinz, the resident heartbreaker, could end up with an Academy Award nomination, but let’s think of better long shots, such as Nick Nolte winning for “The Good Thief.”


TITLE: “The Bread, My Sweet”

RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter, consistent with the R category; occasional profanity and sexual candor)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Melissa Martin. Cinematography by Mark Knobil. Music by Susan Hartford

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes


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