The physical production is easily the best thing in this contrived farce about Stephen Toricelli and Danny Russo (Greg Lauren and Christopher Gartin), two gay male-model types who serve as bodyguards and enforcers for NYC mob boss Victor Patrizzi (Tony Lo Bianco). Complications ensue when Stephen’s parents (Beth Fowler and Frank Pellegrino), who are comfortable with his sexuality but believe he’s a caterer rather than a mobster, come to town on a surprise visit, and simultaneously Victor’s free-spirited daughter Jenny (Rebecca Creskoff) announces her engagement to milquetoast Damon Jennings (Brian Lane Green). His adoptive parents Alma and Matt (Tovah Feldshuh and Patrick Collins) turn out to be a couple of Wisconsin militia nuts who come to the city along with their ragtag army of bumbling followers and dreams of starting the revolution. Also in the mix are Victor’s wife Stella (Anna Maria Alberghetti) and their sons Vito and Frankie (Danny Mastrogiorgio and Lou Carbonneau), who are more interested in cooking and clothes design than the family business, as well as an assortment of colorful gangsters and a flamboyant friend of the bodyguards named Richard (Edward Hibbert, from “Frasier”). Everything comes to a head at a combination birthday-and-engagement party for Mr. Toricelli and Jenny supposedly catered by the boys, where the presence of a cartoonish US senator encourages Alma and Matt and their neanderthal group to attempt a violent takeover.
“Friends and Family” is clearly directed at the same gay audiences that have embraced “Sordid Lives” over the past couple of years: it’s garish, broad and loud, with a plethora of stereotypes to tickle the funnybones of the initiated. (For some reason, Richard is enlisted to teach all the mobsters assigned to serve as waiters at the party to act ostentatiously gay–with predictable, though sometimes funny, results–and Mrs. Toricelli is disappointed when she’s not been introduced to any drag queens, an assortment of whom Victor then recruits for the gathering.) But by any objective standards it’s a pretty bad movie. Most of the dialogue is leaden and the narrative intricacies are poorly constructed, with the militia subplot not only unfunny but tasteless, and Kristen Coury’s direction is alternately stiff and limp. Among the cast members, the experienced Lo Bianco and Fowler underplay, with considerable success, and Pellegrino, with his dour, dismissive manner, comes off ever better. Those who go all out, on the other hand–Feldshuh, Alberghetti and Hibbert, for instance–grow annoying fast. The comparatively youthful performers tend to be photogenic but amateurish.
On the other hand, the locations look quite nice and the production design (by Sonya Gropman) is thoroughly professional; John Leuba’s cinematography captures it all well, too. But surface polish can’t make up for what’s lacking underneath. “Friends and Family” wants very much to mimic the classic screwball comedies of the forties with a gay twist, but the script and direction are simply too clumsy to carry it off. It might be the perfect midnight movie in select urban locales (and it’s not as awful as “Sordid Lives”), but otherwise it’s likely to cause barely a ripple.