Tuesday, November 14, 2006

When "Gay" and "Family" Collide, Sometimes it Makes a Sticky Mess, Like Stepped-On Cannoli

I know this blog is called "Go Away I'm Reading," but I spend lots of time watching movies, as well.

And it's not always a happy experience. Well, I like to try new things, and that always carries risk: some you're going to like, and some are going to be like the one I saw recently: "Mambo Italiano."


This movie is (ostensibly) the story of a young Canadian-Italian named Angelo, played by Luke Kirby (is molto italiano, no?), the product of Italian immigrants to Quebec (MOVIE LESSON #1: NOT ALL ITALIANS IMMIGRATED TO BROOKLYN). He falls in love with a boyhood pal, Nino (is adorable name, no? He's played by Peter Miller--also molto italiano), who deflowers him on a camping trip. Of course, they must keep their romance a secret from their old-world Italian parents--in Angelo's case Gino and Maria (played by Paul Sorvino--thank God, a real Italian!--and Ginette Reno) and in Nino's case, man-hungry mother Lina, played by Mary Walsh (who looks remotely like Frida the redhead from ABBA--the ONLY thing that prevented me from hating her completely).

The movie opens with Angelo placing a call to a gay counseling hotline. He explains to the bemused and besotten counselor, Peter (signposting alert!), how his and Nino's relationship began in a series of flashbacks (which I've just described in the paragraph above--nice of me, no?).

As a gay man, I should be Grateful and Supportive of Any Gay-Themed Movie, but I had a hard time warming up to any of these characters (except, ironically, Angelo's parents, especially his mom). Angelo himself I found to be a strong-willed, self-centered, self-pitying priss with a head of unruly white-boy Afro hair (intended, I suppose, to represent that "thick, dark curly hair that we're all supposed to love").

The parents discover their sons are bumping nasties (come on, you KNEW they were going to find out!) and decide to stage an "intervention" (i.e., "let's fix them up with some nice Italian girls--the smell of marinara sauce will make them forget about cock"), and invite Pina (yes, "Pina"), a hard-boiled ghetto pencil-troll with as much class as Rhea Perlman in "Cheers" (only with thicker eyebrows), who was supposed to be a school friend of both boys (although the actress, Sophie Lorain, was born in 1957 and looks it).

I lost respect (such as it was) for most of the characters in this scene: Pina, because she was a coarse, hairy marital mercenary (think Michele Pfeiffer in "Married to the Mob" with a mustache) and referred to Angelo as "the fag," and Nino, because he turns against Angelo in front of both families and informs him that he doesn't want to continue their relationship. He proceeds to take up with Gina (whom he richly deserves, after all). Yep, his timing truly sucks. But then, it probably sucked in bed, too, which makes him not much of a loss, no? (MOVIE LESSON #2: IT'S OK TO BE HOMOPHOBIC IF YOUR ETHNICITY CONDONES IT. AND NOBODY'S ALLOWED TO CRITICIZE YOU FOR THAT, OR THEY'RE PREJUDICED!)

Now Lina, Nino's mother, seems to be a man-chaser who flirts with all the married men. Ah, but there's a twist a-waiting to melt our cynical hearts. You see, poor Lina's a widow, a fact which is beaten over our heads after a huge fight between her and Angelo's parents over which son is "gayer." The next scene shows poor Lina weeping over her husband's grave (as if she probably didn't drive him into it), and Angelo's mother magically developing sympathy for her, thus forging their "bond." (MOVIE LESSON #3: GRIEF OVER DEAD SPOUSES CAN MAKE UP FOR ANY PRIOR AND SUBSEQUENT SKANKINESS--IT'S THE "GET-OUT-OF-THE-VD-CLINIC-FREE" CARD.)

Angelo, experiencing a gay existential crisis, decides to volunteer for the gay hotline. During a preliminary meeting of volunteers, each person explains why he or she wants to volunteer for the hotline. One very emotional gentleman explains how the hotline helped him when he was at his lowest, and how if he can help even one other young man, it will be worth it for him. Pretty sweet, actually.

Ah, but then it's Angelo's turn to speak: he wants to help the community, but he doesn't like "fems:" "Keep the fems away from me," he says, with a pointed look at the emotional guy. (Incredibly, this dumbfuck doesn't see the irony of spurning "feminine" gay men, even as he sports Gloria Gaynor's 1978 hairstyle. )

Then, finally, it's time to take a few hotline calls. Angelo's first call is from a comically dramatic lesbian who speaks about suicide. Angelo rattles off a pithy quip about getting over herself, and hangs up. Peter, his volunteer mentor (Remember him? The one from the beginning of the film? Thought you might), basically laughs it off, and says that Angelo must learn to have compassion for himself before he can have compassion for others. At that point, I think I did a spit take: was this guy high or something?! The only person Angelo seems to have compassion for throughout this film is himself! Ah, but after all, he's the young, cute protagonist, with whom we are told to identify, which brings us to MOVIE LESSON #3: WHEN THE YOUNG, CUTE PROTAGONIST DOES SOMETHING CHILDISH AND SPITEFUL, IT'S OK BECAUSE SOME "PETER" WILL HAVE DEVELOPED THE HOTS FOR HIM, THEREBY MAKING ALL OTHER HUMAN CHARACTERS SUPERFLUOUS, SINCE ALL OTHER STORIES WILL HAVE TAKEN A BACK SEAT TO THEIR POORLY-DEVELOPED LOVE STORY.

And that's pretty much the way the rest of the movie plays out. Nino and Pina end up married with kids (are we supposed to be happy for them? They're despicable, and have now reproduced!), and Angelo ends up bringing Peter home to Mama and Papa, and it's all warm and fuzzy. What-fucking-ever.

Apparently, this movie was trying hard to be the gay "Moonstruck." It might have succeeded, too, if it had had a few of the things "Moonstruck" had: likeable characters, a plausible plot, and chemistry among ANY of its actors. As it was, it was clearly something that Paul Sorvino did because he needed the money. Badly, from the looks of it.

Thus ends Aaron's Bitter and Bitchy Film Review for November 2006. Join me again next year, when "Hairspray" is released...


Blogger dirk.mancuso said...

And to think I flirted briefly with renting this once. I don't know if it wanted to be the gay MOONSTRUCK, but I would have to give it points sight unseen for not having Nicolas Cage in it (Gawd, that man is all kinds of grisly).

Any recommendations for gay themed movies you DID like?

3:19 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

To be honest, most gay-themed movies (at least comedies) are syrupy and Disney-esque (not in a "Little Mermaid" way, but more of a "Shaggy Dog" way), since they represent the reality that we (some of us, anyway) would WISH for ourselves rather than the one we actually live in.

But feel free to rent this one and let me know if you disagree with my assessment. For ones I do actually like, "Straight Jacket" was pretty good--a Rock Hudson-like actor gets busted in a gay bar raid, and is forced to marry his studio boss's secretary (Carrie Preston from "Transamerica"). She's clueless, of course, but ends up being the one who holds it all together.

Also stars our pal Veronica Cartwright, who's a hoot as his dykey agent.

3:44 PM  

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