After delivering Italy’s top-grossing hit of 1995 with “Honeymoon Trips,” Carlo Verdone re-teams with his co-star from that pic, Claudia Gerini, in “Mad About Iris Blond.” This story of a love-struck musician seduced and abandoned by the aspiring singer he makes famous is an unsatisfying romantic comedy that attempts to conjure a melancholy strain with the aid of its cold, gray Belgian settings. The prolific actor-director’s latest looks unlikely to scale the lofty commercial heights of his recent outings due to its uncertain comic register and implausible plot axis.
Informed by a clairvoyant (Nuccia Fumo) that his romantic future lies with a woman bearing the name of a flower, ’70s singing star-turned-keyboard player Romeo (Verdone) mistakenly accepts his destiny in Marguerite (Andrea Ferreol), a vampy chanteuse he encounters on a cruise ship. Swept back to her native Brussels, he begins providing piano accompaniment while she warbles Jacques Brel tunes in smoky beatnik haunts. But his heart takes wing only when he meets Iris (Gerini), a part-time poet and singer waiting tables in a burger joint.
Extricating himself from Marguerite’s confining embrace, he moves in with Iris and starts grooming her for stardom, adhering to a no-sex pact to avoid complications. But when their act becomes a sensation and she lands a major recording contract from which Romeo is excluded, Iris breaks their agreement to soften the blow.
Harnessing the blossoming and wilting of the romance to Iris’ rise to fame, this Italian spin on “A Star Is Born” faces an insurmountable problem. The songs (written in English) are truly awful, and Gerini, whose character never becomes entirely sympathetic, pitches her musical performance somewhere between Madonna and Juliette Lewis in “Strange Days,” posing no threat to either of them. The idea that she could take Brussels or anyplace else by storm requires a serious suspension of disbelief.
The boyish generosity characteristic of Verdone’s films makes this one go down easy enough despite its sluggish rhythm, but the surprising lack of chemistry between the director and his co-star strips the inevitable dissolution of their relationship of its intended bittersweet pangs.
Laughs are less frequent than usual, with the comedy clicking only during an enjoyable interlude with Iris’ exuberant father (Nello Mascia), who commandeers Romeo for a night out among the Italian expat community of provincial Charleroi. Elsewhere, the setting is unatmospheric, to say the least.