Or “My Not-So-Big-and-Fat Gay Italian Son.” Here’s a colorful but bland Canadian movie that tries strenuously to milk the ethnic sitcom territory that Nia Vardalos’ surprise smash mined so successfully last year. But the crowd queuing up at the boxoffice is unlikely to be nearly as large in this case. “Mambo Italiano” isn’t as awful as one might expect–while heavy-handed and shrill, it actually has a certain clumsy charm–but it really belongs on the specialized festival circuit or cable TV rather than in general release.
The catalyst for all the hoped-for hilarity is Angelo (Luke Kirby), the son of Gino and Maria Barberini (Paul Sorvino and Ginette Reno), an aging immigrant couple in Montreal’s Little Italy enclave–which appears to have been plunked down in the middle of the Quebec city with the manners and mores of the old country absolutely intact. Angelo, a sensitive youth with dreams of becoming a television writer, rebels against his parents’ traditions and moves into his own apartment. He also reconnects with his old chum Nino Paventi (Peter Miller), who’d been his closest childhood friend before drifting away in high school under pressure from their classmates. Nino is now a cop, as well as a closeted gay, and before long he and Angelo are living together, but keeping the fact that they are lovers rather than merely roommates a deep secret. Their idyllic relationship is shattered, however, when Angelo’s sister Anna (Claudia Ferri) discovers the truth, after which it’s only a matter of time before Gino and Maria are bemoaning how they’ve failed and Nino’s widowed mother (Mary Walsh) is pressuring her boy to find a good Italian girl and get married. Eventually a likely candidate, Pina Lunetti (Sophie Lorain), shows up, while Angelo meets Peter (Tim Post), a nice, obviously interested fellow, when he auditions (disastrously) to become a participant in a gay help-line phone service.
All this is played very broadly, with the kind of overemphatic bluster that’s the stuff of lesser television farce. Emile Gaudreault’s direction is of the simplest, technically crudest sort, with obvious set-ups and a tendency to depend overmuch on close-ups; and the cast responds in kind. Kirby actually exhibits a pleasant sweetness as the put-upon central character, but as his family Sorvino, Reno and Ferri play to the rafters (Ferri might actually be channeling the young Marisa Tomei). And while Miller is reasonably understated as Nino, both Walsh and Lorain are little more than the grossest caricatures.
The picture looks a lot better that the material deserves, with a gaudily colored production design by Patricia Christie and slick photography by Serge Ladouceur. But this is one dance you might just want to sit out until it shows up in the video store or the small screen.