A young musician in mid-’70s Italy floats through life in the visually accomplished but slight “Don’t Waste Your Time, Johnny!” thesp Fabrizio Bentivoglio’s first feature as director. Shapeless script reveals its roots in dinner-table stories and, while the period flavor is nicely captured, the central protag is too much of a blank slate for anything memorable to stick. Inoffensive and bland, the pic could fill a footloose evening; opening week after its Turin fest preem saw mild biz, unsustainable against holiday juggernauts.
It’s 1976 in the Neapolitan city of Caserta, and Faustino (newcomer Antimo Merolillo), fresh out of school, has to prove he’s employed as a guitarist, and his widowed mother’s sole support, to avoid military service. But coaxing a contract out of slippery music manager Raffaele (Ernesto Mahieux) is proving difficult.
Faustino plays for a hodgepodge outfit led by alcoholic Mimmo Falasco (Toni Servillo, grandstanding); but when faded ’60s bandleader Augusto Riverberi (Bentivoglio) comes to town, Raffaele makes Faustino the maestro’s personal assistant. Local beautician Annamaria (Valeria Golino) captures Riverberi’s eye, though it’s Faustino’s mom, Vincenza (Lina Sastri), who makes a more profound impression.
A little hustling by Raffaele gets Riverberi & Co. a decent gig, so they hire an amateur crooner renamed Gerry Como (Peppe Servillo) and the band appears ready to make some sort of splash in the provinces. But Raffaele runs out with the gate, and Riverberi returns to Milan, leaving Faustino, nicknamed “Johnny” by the maestro, still without a contract.
The story is little more than mildly interesting: It’s obvious Bentivoglio’s main preoccupation is in conjuring up the atmosphere of a group of provincial musicians in the ’70s. As an occasional member of the band Avion Travel, Bentivoglio understands the background, but by focusing on the colorless Faustino, he does the pic no favors.
As someone who neither thinks deeply nor acts decisively, Faustino’s central role makes the movie feel empty inside, no matter how much affection the nostalgic helmer piles onto his fantasy imaginings of an “uncomplicated” decade.
Cast is impressive on paper, and vets like Golino and Sastri imbue their scenes with more depth than the script hands them. Pic’s episodic construction, though linear, appears to lead nowhere (partly intentionally?), and is undoubtedly derived from latenight tales between band members. Scenes with a ridiculously effeminate dancer (Giovanni Piscitelli) are presumably meant to increase the mid-’70s variety show feel, but should be axed.
Lensing by Luca Bigazzi, one of the best and most distinctive d.p.’s in Italy today, is skilled without calling too much attention to himself. Colors are kept within a faded ’70s palette, though the final, melancholy scenes in the snow offer the pic’s richest visual moments.