Must-Watch in Quarantine: “Mambo Italiano”, a funny and modern gay movie

The marketers of ”Mambo Italiano” (2003) would like nothing more than to position it as a broad, sloppy, ethnic comedy-romance in the recently minted tradition of ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” But this Canadian film by Émile Gaudreault, based on a stage play by Steve Galluccio, is more suggestive of that venerable dinner-theater hit ”Norman . . . Is That You?,” filmed by George Schlatter in 1976 but doubtless still playing somewhere on the surf-and-turf circuit.

The hero and narrator of ”Mambo Italiano” is Angelo Barberini (Luke Kirby), a sweet-faced young resident of Montreal’s Italian neighborhood, once mercilessly tormented by his high school peers for his allegedly effeminate behavior. As the film opens, he has grown into a full-fledged gay man, though he is still living with his parents, Maria (Ginette Reno) and Gino (Paul Sorvino). Though their house is in a cozy corner of suburban Montreal, its interior looks like an only slightly miniaturized version of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, filled with gilt, plaster statues and exotic marble.

Angelo’s parents are first-generation immigrants to Canada. (”Nobody told me there were two Americas,” Mr. Sorvino’s character says, ”the real one and the phony one.”) They still speak with theatrical accents and have outrageously reactionary ideas. Angelo finally works up the courage to move out of his parents’ home and into an apartment with Nino (Peter Miller), a policeman who was once one of the schoolboys who tormented Angelo but is now a gay (though closeted) man himself. The problem for Angelo and Nino is how to keep their loving relationship a secret from their volatile parents, who are still eagerly fixing them up with ”nice Italian girls.”

Much of ”Mambo Italiano” is devoted to colorful, food-splattering expressions of shock and outrage on the part of Angelo’s parents, once they finally discover his secret, when Nino, frightened by the reaction of his smothering mother (Mary Walsh), resolves to turn himself straight and starts dating Pina (Sophie Lorain), an aggressive businesswoman who becomes the film’s designated heavy.

Mr. Gaudreault’s direction is about as basic as it can get: his film consists almost entirely of close-ups, with a cut from one character to the next at the end of each line. The accents wobble, from Mr. Sorvino’s Chico Marx delivery to the distinctly French-inflected line readings of some of the local actors, including Ms. Lorain and Ms. Reno. As Angelo, Mr. Kirby has a boyish charm, which is probably the best that can be said for this film as well.

A must-watch modern classic!

Via The New York Times

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