A provincial rock band is reunited by its biggest fan in the offbeat, spryly entertaining comedy.

A provincial rock band is reunited by its biggest fan in the offbeat, spryly entertaining comedy “The Greatest of All.” While the subject isn’t new, helmer-scripter Carlo Virzi makes it feel fresh and funny, delivering that rarity — an intelligent laffer without pandering. Considerably stronger and more mature than Virzi’s previous “The Summer of My First Kiss,” the pic tips its hat to rock-themed pics like “Almost Famous,” yet maintains an Italo sensibility that should stand it in good stead at home, provided marketing knows where to aim. Euro play is possible, followed by strong smallscreen rotation.

Though the current mania for voiceovers in Italo pics has worn extremely thin, here it’s just about forgivable coming from Loris (Alessandro Roja), a perpetually perplexed underachiever whose brain seems fried from too much weed. Luckily he’s married to Simona (Claudia Potenza), a responsible type, and with their son, they’ve carved out a relatively normal life in the Tuscan city of Livorno. Out of the blue, Loris gets a letter from rock journalist Ludovico (Corrado Fortuna) saying he’s doing a big story on Loris’ old band, Pluto.

Pluto was a blip on the rock landscape, and Loris hasn’t seen his fellow band members in a long time, but Ludovico is obsessed and determined to bring them back together. The journo is also a paraplegic with a wealthy, indulgent mother (the radiant Catherine Spaak in a small role) and the funds to tempt the recalcitrant group to play again.

Bad-boy band member Mao (Marco Cocci) is as immature now as then, but Sabrina (Claudia Pandolfi, never better) has a veneer of bourgeois respectability that’s as brittle as the thinnest sheet of ice; once reunited with her former band mates, she’s back to her wild-child days. Rino (Dario Kappa Cappanera), the only really decent musician, needs extra coaxing, but ultimately he, too, agrees to the interview and a gig — but Ludovico keeps secret that his magazine has decided to nix the story, and he scrambles to find a venue for the reunion concert.

Much of the pic’s strength, apart from superb thesping, is the gentle confounding of expectation. Virzi starts with stereotypes but then undermines assumptions, so Sabrina isn’t the usual girl singer but the bassist, and Loris’ burned-out demeanor hides a decent guy who ultimately is pretty content with his life. Ludovico is the one semi-misfire here: Virzi wants him to be a complicated figure, but appears uncertain how to achieve that goal, throwing in a background reveal that fills in the narrative but doesn’t explore enough of the person.

Dialogue is funny, and delivered with expert rhythm by the winning ensemble, who all inhabit their characters with a physicality, whether energetic or restrained, that terrifically captures each role. Visuals go for an indie feel without overdoing it; a concert scene is lensed and edited with controlled vitality. The spot-on score further boosts Virzi’s rep as a versatile composer.

The Greatest of All

Italy

Production

An Eagle Pictures release of an Indiana Prod., Motorino Amaranto production, in association with Eagle Pictures, in collaboration with Rai Cinema. (International sales: Indiana Prod., Milan.) Produced by Fabrizio Donvito, Marco Cohen, Benedetto Habib, Carlo Virzi, Paolo Virzi. Directed, written by Carlo Virzi.

Crew

Camera (color), Ferran Paredes Rubio; editor, Simone Manetti; music, Virzi; production designer, Roberto De Angelis; costume designer, Maria Cristina La Parola; sound (Dolby SRD), Mario Iaquone; assistant directors, Lorenzo Grasso, Dario Ceruti. Reviewed at Turin Film Festival (competing), Nov. 30, 2011. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Claudia Pandolfi, Alessandro Roja, Marco Cocci, Corrado Fortuna, Dario Kappa Cappanera, Catherine Spaak, Claudia Potenza, Frankie HI-NRG MC, Francesco Villa, Niccolo Belloni.

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