On the beautiful island of Montréal, in the pretty Petite Italie neighbourhood, thirtysomething Angelo Barberini (Luke Kirby) still lives with his overbearing Italian-Canadian family. His father Gino (Paul Sorvino) is a perpetually miserable working man, his mother Maria (singer Ginette Reno) is loving but way too obsessed with getting him a wife and his sister Anna (Claudia Ferri) is a neurotic addicted to iced treats. The only ray of light in Angelo’s life is Nino (Peter Miller), his friend, confident and… lover. Sooner or later they will have to come out and, with their Italian relatives already always yelling and slapping each other, they can only fear the worst.
“Mambo Italiano” is an adaptation of the play by Steve Gallucio, who co-wrote the film with director Émile Gaudreault. But even though the source material predates it, it’s obvious that the filmmakers are trying to ride on the coattails of last year’s improbable hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. The undemanding masses who loved that crapsterpiece might see this as a good omen, but anyone with a passing appreciation for little things like depth, subtlety or wit will feel short-changed.
So here we go again with the TV sitcom premise, ethnic stereotypes, corny humor and overwritten narration. At least Gaudreault tries things visually (even though it’s a half-assed rip-off of Amélie), and the film takes a few more risks. The coarse language I could have done without (it feels out of place), but the fact that the lead characters are homosexual is somewhat refreshing in an otherwise conventional family comedy. We’re not talking hardcore gay sex, just let’s-make-jokes-about-it-but-avoid-showing-it homosexuality like in “Will and Grace”, but that’s a start.
One of the film’s major flaws is that it remains clearly theatrical. This can work out nicely enough, like in the broad comico-dramatic scenes between the famiglia. Reno and Sorvino are particularly sympathetic, immediately convincing as an old married couple, and Mary Walsh (as Lino’s manipulative widowed mother) and Sophie Lorain (as a sexy woman brought in to turn Lino straight) are amusing. But when the film sticks to Angelo whining on and on about his predicament (“I’m afraid that if this goes on I’ll lose myself forever”) or to scenes between the two lovers (they have zero chemistry), it’s painfully tedious.
“Mambo Italiano” is way too uneven for me to recommend it, but if you’re interested in seeing a not so predictable story about coming to terms with who you and the people close to you are, you might wanna give it a try.