Review: ‘My Name Is Tanino’

Once again resurrecting a consecrated tradition of Italian comedy, writer-director Paolo Virzi exuberantly chronicles the picaresque adventures of a clueless Sicilian at large in the Nuovo Mondo in "My Name Is Tanino." While it's consistently amusing and enjoyable, the film also is as episodic and uneven as its tortured production history.

Once again resurrecting a consecrated tradition of Italian comedy, writer-director Paolo Virzi exuberantly chronicles the picaresque adventures of a clueless Sicilian at large in the Nuovo Mondo in “My Name Is Tanino.” While it’s consistently amusing and enjoyable, the film also is as episodic and uneven as its tortured production history would suggest. Affectionately recalling the comedies of Alberto Sordi, “Tanino” should please local audiences and may land scattered sales but ultimately, will be only marginally more adept at crossing borders than its blundering protagonist.

One of a handful of productions plagued by the Cecchi Gori Group’s financial woes, shooting was shut down repeatedly in Toronto due to lack of funds, with unpaid lab costs creating uncertainty around the comedy’s Venice premiere and eventual release. Virzi’s film was part of a package of CGG titles picked up by rival distrib Medusa, including Roberto Benigni’s upcoming “Pinocchio” and Sergio Rubini’s “Soul Mate,” also in Venice. While indecision continues, latest news has “Tanino” going out domestically via Cecchi Gori at Christmas.

Story unfolds in the form of a letter from New York in which undistinguished film student Tanino (Corrado Fortuna) recounts in voiceover the series of misadventures that led him there. Backtracking to his native beachtown the previous summer, he meets Rhode Island Wasp Sally (Rachel McAdams). Mistaking holiday romance for something more durable, he descends on her doorstep, getting mixed up with the shady Italo-American Li Causi family on the way. Tanino’s naivety lands him in the middle of an infidelity crisis concerning Sally’s parents (Lori Hallier, Barry Flatman) and her gun-happy father hastens the Sicilian’s exit.

Taking refuge with the raucous Li Causi clan, Tanino finds himself being positioned for matrimony with plump spitfire Angelina (Jessica De Marco), daughter of the corrupt mayor (Beau Starr). Another panicked flight ensues, this time taking the feckless traveler to New York. In the film’s least cohesive section, Tanino hooks up with his idol, underground filmmaker Chinawsky (Don Franks), a marginalized lower Manhattan dropout of dubious talent, living close to the poverty line.

Working with regular scripting partner Francesco Bruni and novelist Francesco Piccolo, Virzi’s rambling road movie is infectiously humorous even though it lacks the tight structure, incisive socio-political reflections and thematic resonance of his best films “August Vacation” and “Ovosodo.”

Observations of America through unworldly Italian eyes are laced with good-natured bite and disenchantment. And the depiction of Tanino as both an innocent and opportunist, an impressionable dreamer ready to go with the flow of any new experience presented to him, is colored by Virzi’s characteristic generosity and an undertone of sweet melancholy.

Milking steady laughs from Tanino’s rudimentary English skills and his blithe ability to glide over the constant communication impasse, newcomer Fortuna makes an engaging mascot for youthful inexperience and heedlessness.

On the tech side, lenser Arnaldo Catinari’s limber shooting style brings a lively, unfettered energy to the widescreen frame and nice use is made on the soundtrack of tunes by Nick Drake and Italian band Tiromancino.

My Name Is Tanino

Italy

Production

A Cecchi Gori Distribuzione/Medusa Film release of a Mario and Vittorio Cecchi Gori presentation of a Cecchi Gori Group Fin.Ma.Vi production. (International sales: Cecchi Gori Group, Rome.) Produced by Vittorio Cecchi Gori. Directed by Paolo Virzi. Screenplay, Francesco Bruni, Francesco Piccolo, Virzi.

Crew

Camera (color, Technovision widescreen), Arnaldo Catinari; editor, Jacopo Quadri; music, Carlo Virzi; production designers, Ian Brock, Sonia Peng; costume designer, Alex Reda; sound (Dolby Digital), Mario Iaquone; casting, Lisa Parasyn. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (non-competing), Sept. 5, 2002. Running time: 124 MIN.

With

Tanino - Corrado Fortuna Sally - Rachel McAdams Angelo Maria Li Causi - Frank Crudele Angelina - Jessica De Marco Santa Li Causi - Mary Long Omobono - Beau Starr Leslie Garfield - Lori Hallier Mr. Garfield - Barry Flatman
With: Robert Bockstael, Licinia Lentini, Domenico Mignemi, Salvo Compagno, Marina Orsini, Don Franks. (Italian & English dialogue.)

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