Depicting today's directionless twentysomething generation not with the romanticized angst of most Italian treatises on the subject, but with freshness and a dose of soft-edged cynicism, "We All Fall Down" is a fast, funny, visually hip adaptation of Giuseppe Culicchia's semi-autobiographical bestseller, widely translated in Europe. Driven by rising star Valerio Mastandrea's winning portrayal of a hero who's disaffected and disgruntled but far too unmotivated to be an angry young man, this smart comedy stands a strong chance of finding an offshore niche. Walter (Mastandrea) is 22 and still a virgin, more from lack of enthusiasm than opportunity. After spending his adolescence in Rome with a free-spirited aunt ('60s pop diva Caterina Caselli), he returns reluctantly to northern Turin to live with his quick-tempered, blue-collar father (Carlo Monni) and his mother (Adriana Rinaldi), whose nervous condition has rendered her almost mute. He sporadically attends a university philosophy course but rarely sits for an exam, going mainly for the stimulating environment.
A change of environment looms when Walter is called up for compulsory military service. The first of many amusing jabs at Italian authority is delivered during his army medical checkup, when he learns the training program for officers is open only to those with family connections or shapely sisters to campaign on their behalf. Declaring himself a conscientious objector, Walter opts instead for a civil service term, but finds that connections are equally indispensable in that sphere.
Incident is less important to the story than Walter’s various encounters and how his jaded, loner’s worldview is expressed through them. He feels equally out of place with existentialist crusader Castracan (Gianluca Gobbi), with wealthy sexual predator Beatrice (Anita Caprioli), and with his clueless friend Valeria (Benedetta Mazzini), who attempts a mercy mission to relieve Walter of his virginity, but is pried off him by her sleazy, drug-dealing partner (Tommaso Ragno).
Some of the best sequences involve Walter’s fantasies. He imagines killing his father and then the brainless TV news reporter covering the murder; envisions being dazzlingly eloquent at interviews for cushy positions; and his mental rehearsal for sex with Beatrice plays like a Zalman King movie that sharply contrasts with the deflating reality that follows.
What gives the film much of its spark are the witty sketches of fleeting characters such as a postal employee, a gypsy godfather, pampered rich kids, bigoted teachers, supercilious university professors and petty bureaucrats.
Scripter-director Davide Ferrario’s take on nihilistic youth is light without being glib, and Mastandrea makes an immensely likable emblem, perhaps not for the entire generation, but for its many misfits. He brings a lazy, sauntering charm and a self-effacing quality to the role, at the same time appearing more physically attractive than the character in Culicchia’s novel. As the father, seasoned character actor Monni also hits the mark.
Luca Gasparini and Claudio Cormio’s rapid-fire editing sustains a pleasurable pace that sputters only briefly in the midsection. Lenser Giovanni Cavallini displays a distinctive feel for the Turin locations, with his agile camera and skewed angles creating a cutting-edge look rarely achieved in Italian films. A strong soundtrack of songs by some of Italy’s best alternative rock bands adds to the slick package.
Ferrario dedicates the film to late Brit director Lindsay Anderson, whose book on John Ford he translated into Italian. Pic reportedly is set for a competition slot at this summer’s Locarno fest.