Florentine standup comic Leonardo Pieraccioni debuts as a writer-director with “The Graduates,” an affectionate look at a quartet of 30-ish friends stuck on the threshold of full-fledged adulthood and responsibility. Notable as actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta’s follow-up to her star-making turn as Massimo Troisi’s bride in “The Postman,” this amiable comedy is short on both substance and structure, tagging it for only modest B.O. success.
The model for Pieraccioni’s ensemble piece appears to lie somewhere between Fellini’s “I Vitelloni,” Mario Monicelli’s “My Friends” and the early features of Gabriele Salvatores, which indulged in a kind of collective reminiscence of a generation both critical of and nostalgic about its youth. The combination here, however, is rather formless.
Action centers on four roommates who have long since finished university studies but are dragging their heels before taking final exams. Leonardo (Pieraccioni) has a broken marriage behind him; Rocco (Rocco Papaleo) left his hometown after being betrayed by his fiancee; Bruno (Gianmarco Tognazzi) is a Roman opportunist waiting to inherit the family business from his wife’s father and sleeping with her sister in the meantime, and Pino (Massimo Ceccherini) is an aspiring comedian who fumbles his big break.
The film takes in mildly amusing, often inconsequential episodes from the affable group’s lives, but fails to develop the situations far enough to engage interest or sympathy.
Much is made of the romantic yearnings of Leonardo, who carries a major torch for Rocco’s worldly sister Letizia (Cucinotta), a model for photo-novels. But the relationship sputters and dissolves before it gets going. Even more clumsily conveyed is the bond between Leonardo and his surrogate father (Alessandro Haber).
Pieraccioni’s direction is a little stiff and lacking in refinement, and the observations of his script (co-written with Giovanni Veronesi) are rarely incisive enough to strike chords. Comedy works best when it eschews emotional or psychological probing, as in the film’s genuinely funny standout scene, in which the protagonists pay their respects to Rocco’s recently deceased grandmother while a chorus of grieving crones looks on.
Quietly appealing in “The Postman,” Cucinotta appears wooden and self-conscious here, seemingly impeded by her sultry Mediterranean beauty rather than able to relax and flaunt it with any degree of naturalness. The four male leads generally fare better, but their characters all are scantily defined, giving them nothing to build upon.
Talented lenser Alessandro Pesci makes the most of locations in and around Florence’s historic center. Other technical input also is solid, with considerable vitality injected via music by up-and-coming band Audio 2.