If you thought seders at your great-aunt Rivka’s were dully predictable affairs, you may want to skip Francesco Amato’s bland Italian laffer “Let Yourself Go.” Set in Rome’s Jewish community, this formulaic comedy about an uptight shrink who loosens up thanks to a shiksa personal trainer is standard-issue Italian fare, with the sole difference being that everyone isn’t Catholic. Stateside Jewish niche distributor Menemsha Films knows its audience (Florida is the first stop); it’s not to be confused with having an appeal to the art-house crowd — unless foreign language is the sole criterion. Local box office finished modestly last spring with just over $2 million in receipts, though the film did win best comedy at the Italian Golden Globes.
Even the great Toni Servillo, usually so adept at freshly delineating each new role, feels old hat here as Elia Venezia, a Freudian psychotherapist more interested in pastries than patients. As stingy as he is sardonic, Elia is separated from wife Giovanna (Carla Signoris) but not divorced, since he’s too cheap to pay a lawyer (or so she says). They still behave like a couple, living side by side in separate spaces carved out of their former super-large apartment, across the street from Rome’s main synagogue. But he’s sensing that she’s stepping out with someone else.
Following mild chest pains, Elia’s commanded to get in shape and hires ditzy Spanish tamale Claudia (Verónica Echegui) as his personal trainer: Thus a man who treats the psyche is matched with a woman who treats the body. He’s cultured and fusty, she’s doltish and free-spirited, but they’re each using the other, even if Claudia’s character is so poorly written that it’s never clear what she wants or why she wants it. Then again, like everyone else apart from Giovanna, she’s a caricature, not a real person. That’s certainly true of her ex-b.f. Ettore (Luca Marinelli), a jewel robber so thick he makes Tex Avery’s Willoughby seem brainy.
The clash between sheer idiocy and Elia’s soon-to-be-challenged reserve is meant to be the prime generator of laughs, though the execution isn’t exactly fresh. At least the jokes are better than the panoply of politically incorrect “humor” that so frequently appears in Italian comedies. No doubt the scriptwriters thought that having Claudia’s daughter Jennifer Maria (Odette Adado) be the Afro-Italian product of her liaison with a drug dealer from Cape Verde would show how inclusive and contemporary they are, but did they really think they’d get a good chuckle when Claudia tosses off the line, “She’s not really black, she’s brown”? Oh wait, didn’t Silvio Berlusconi say that President Obama was “tanned”?
Together with the Jewish setting (yes, there are kosher restaurants in the Eternal City), attractive images of Rome will be a selling point, all shot in a honeyed glow. Though not at all connected to Italian Jewry, the traditional Ashkenazi tune “Mazel Tov” is tossed in for further schmaltz.