Review: ‘Just Do It’

An ear for authentic dialogue can sometimes be too true to life, as evidenced by Francesco Apolloni's well-intentioned grapple with the isolation of contemporary society, "Just Do It." Two friends struggle to connect with the people around them, but too much time passes before pic develops into something more than mindless talk.

An ear for authentic dialogue can sometimes be too true to life, as evidenced by Francesco Apolloni’s well-intentioned grapple with the isolation of contemporary society, “Just Do It.” Two friends struggle to connect with the people around them, but too much time passes before their palaver develops into something more than mindless talk. Although shooting was completed by 2001, lack of a distributor held up theatrical release; current limited circulation is unlikely to recoup costs, yet pic’s heartfelt message and thesp Pupella Maggio’s last performance could attract Italo-themed fests offshore, where it’s been picking up scattered prizes.

First half slowly sets the scene during the heat-soaked doldrums of a major summer holiday, Aug. 15. The friends, known only by nicknames, shoot the breeze, talking about women and sports. Il Bove (Francesco Venditti) is the brighter of the pair, confident of his attractiveness to babes, or at least boasting of such to his slower, younger and more innocent friend Il Pechino (Mauro Meconi).

Cut from the dehumanized modern cement wastelands of outer Rome to the warmth of an equally empty downtown, where elderly Giustina (Maggio) goes about her lonely daily routine. Helmer Apolloni shifts back and forth between these disparate and self-contained worlds until evening, when Pechino passes by Giustina’s open window and sees an opportunity to land some easy money.

Nearsighted Giustina discovers this unpracticed burglar and joyfully mistakes him for her negligent grandson. Recognizing a fellow lonely soul, Pechino plays the part and accepts supper and money from the old lady.

Second half takes place four months later, on Dec. 24. Pechino has a job delivering groceries, bringing him into contact with 9-year-old Livia (Arianne Turchi), whose rich parents have apparently left her alone in bored, neglected privilege. Meanwhile across town, Bove is nearly run over by Giordana (Agnese Nano), a distraught woman who’s just discovered her husband’s infidelities.

Loneliness becomes a bridge for these characters, reaching beyond age and class to form unlikely friendships that reveal, in the case of Pechino and Bove, hidden depths. Problems lie in poorly connected areas of the script, which takes too long to get kick-started and introduces minor characters that fade in and out clumsily.

The playfulness of the Italian title, also translatable as “Spirits Like Us,” signals a miscalculated dip into the precious. Apolloni brings in a guardian fairy who breaks the alternating moods of humor and seriousness with a juvenile sentimentality.

Undeniably carrying the first half is the superb and touching Maggio, best known outside Italy for “Amarcord.” As the slightly doddering Giustina bemoaning a life past usefulness, she presents an unflinching portrayal of the despairing isolation of the elderly. The second half belongs to Meconi who, with his quizzical expression and searching naivete, maintains a veneer of incomprehension while subtly revealing a lost soul underneath the vapidity.

Music is a drawback, too often present and rarely managing to find the right tone.

Just Do It

Italy

Production

An Istituto Luce release of a Massimo Chiesa presentation of a Fox & Gould production. (International sales: Buskin Films, Rome.) Produced by Chiesa, Paolo Rossetti, Francesco Apolloni. Directed by Francesco Apolloni. Screenplay, Apolloni, Gianni Cardillo, Paolo Rossetti.

Crew

Camera (color), Giulio Pietromarchi; editor, Rita Rognoni; music, Alessandro Molinari, Emanuele Lunadei; production designer, Emita Frigato, Simona Garotta; costume designer, Chiara Ferrantini; sound (Dolby), Alessandro Molinari. Reviewed at Warner Village Cinema Moderno, Rome, May 1, 2004. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Pupella Maggio, Mauro Meconi, Francesco Venditti, Arianne Turchi, Agnese Nano, Ricky Tognazzi.
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