- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

At first glance, “Mambo Italiano” threatens to underbid “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” as an irrepressible ethnic groaner, substituting

stereotypes and misfits from the Little Italy section of Montreal for Greek Americans in Chicago. Happily, the novelty of the location is a harbinger of freshly hilarious possibilities in this Canadian domestic farce, derived from a popular play by Steve Gallucio, who collaborated on the adaptation with director Emile Gaudreault.

Something impishly witty and distinctive seems to be brewing when Paul Sorvino, as the presiding paterfamilias, Gino Barberini, recalls his confusion about emigrating to America in the late 1950s. “Nobody told us there was two Americas,” Gino explains. “The real one, the United States, and then the fake one, Canada.” Even better, “No one told us there was two Canadas. The real one, over in Ontario, and the fake one, here in Quebec.”

Despite this double deception, Gino and his compatibly irascible spouse, Maria (Ginette Reno, a portly and scowling comic weapon), have stuck it out in Montreal. They have raised two unmarried children, Anna (Claudia Ferri) and Angelo (Luke Kirby), whose frustrations past and present are confided by narrator Angelo, upon whom the plot hinges. A travel agent pushing 30, Angelo not only moves away from home before being wed, a violent break with family custom, but also reveals himself, reluctantly but inevitably, as a homosexual.

The revelation occurs while he is sharing an apartment with former schoolmate Nino Paventi (Peter Miller), a policeman who prefers a closeted relationship. Exposure forces several agonizing reappraisals; these include a shift in Nino’s predilections and a turnaround for Mr. and Mrs. Barberini, who run the gamut from denial that Angelo could be homosexual to ultradefensive boasts that “No one is gayer than our son.”

It’s advisable not to jump to conclusions about anyone in the Barberini orbit, because Mr. Gallucio and Mr. Gaudreault are adept at adding nuances and contradictions to characters who are introduced as rampaging one-dimensional grotesques.

Miss Reno is only one-third of a sensational trio of comic actresses. As Nino’s flirtatious widowed mother, Lina, Mary Walsh is a rollicking asset. Shocked at the notion that her son might be homosexual, Lina envisions Anna as a possible solution: “If he fell for the brother, he could fall for the sister.”

However, a dinner party designed to match up the wayward young men leaves Anna empty-handed as usual. Pina, the young woman recruited to reorient Angelo, has already seduced Nino. And it’s reasonable to believe that what Pina wants, Pina gets, because the actress with the trick name Sophie Lorain (the angular and frizzy-haired Miss Lorain doesn’t bear the slightest physical resemblance to Sophia Loren) embodies her as a knowing, brazen force of nature.

“Mambo Italiano” negotiates an improbable but satisfying set of compromises between numerous bickering and estranged characters. It’s a cockeyed but exuberant odyssey that takes us from exaggerated mutual antagonism to a becoming mutual tolerance.

I’m not sure if a sleeper vogue can be generated for “Mambo Italiano,” but it certainly deserves to find an appreciative audience.

***

TITLE: “Mambo Italiano”

RATING: R (Frequent profanity, sexual candor and comic vulgarity; episodes dealing with a homosexual romance)

CREDITS: Directed by Emile Gaudreault. Screenplay by Mr. Gaudreault and Steve Gallucio, based on the play by Mr. Gallucio. Cinematography by Serge Ladouceur. Production design by Patricia Christie. Costume design by Francesca Chamberland. Music by FM Le Sieur

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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