Something new in sexy Italian movies, “Melissa P.” leaves behind the dwindling raincoat brigade that has patronized the softcore oeuvre of Tinto Brass for a modern teen update that quickly flew to the top of the B.O. charts in mid-November. (Pic ceded only to the new “Harry Potter” in its second weekend.) However, the movie is less hot than advertised, with a teenage Lolita clad in a figleaf of high-school psychology that’s irritatingly banal when not downright laughable. In Italy, PG ratings have opened the pic up to 14-year-olds, though less liberal countries could raise the barrier.
Co-produced with Spain by Italian thesps Francesca Neri and Claudio Amendola, the pic could still work in international markets, given the transborder success of the book it’s freely based on. More than 2 million copies of Melissa Panarello’s racy teen memoir, “100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed,” have been sold in some 30 countries, detailing the exploits of a 16-year-old Sicilian high-school girl who uses daring sex to combat loneliness and parental neglect.
We first meet the angel-faced Melissa (Spanish thesp Maria Valverde, dubbed into childishly squeaky Italian by Alessia Amendola) when she is a shy 15-year-old virgin. Dad is absent (he works abroad on an oil rig) and mom (Fabrizia Sacchi) is too much the spacy housewife to notice her daughter’s growing maladjustment.
Melissa’s swinging granny, Elvira (Geraldine Chaplin), is the only one who sees how unhappy she is. But the cocky lady is soon whisked off to a home for the elderly, leaving the girl lonelier than ever.
Young helmer Luca Guadagnino (“The Protagonists”) works around a difficult “Dear Diary” voiceover to get to the meatier scenes. Opener has bare-chested Melissa masturbating in her room while mom bustles about the house. There follows her first sexual encounter, with the hottest and richest boy in town, Daniele (Primo Reggiani), who takes her behind his swimming pool for humiliating oral sex.
Despite this stunning let-down, her schoolgirl crush is unabated. She has an orgasm just thinking about him while shimmying up a pole in gym class, and goes back to lose her virginity in an even uglier coupling. Finally, in a surprise threesome with Daniele and his friend Arnaldo (Elio Germano), she suddenly mutates into an adult seductress who boldly “shows them” she’s no child. From that point, all bets are off.
Guadagnino and d.p. Mario Amura keep the lighting low and the camera fixed on Valverde’s delicate face during the stronger scenes. But despite a growing list of outre sex acts — including a creepy near-rape scene in an underground vault where she orally services five boys — pic’s atmosphere is surprisingly cold and emotionless. Titillation quotient is way below the average Japanese schoolgirl movie.
None of the thesps even looks turned on. Eighteen-year-old Valverde’s melancholy babyface and hang-dog expression contribute little, and the actress becomes an automaton whenever the action begins. More promising are the actors, uniformly good-looking and ready to display their sculpted backsides at the drop of a jock-strap.
Though it’s a rare Italian film told from a female p.o.v., “Melissa P.” is pseudo-feminist at best. What female wisdom there is comes from bright-eyed granny Elvira and the chutzpah that Chaplin brings to the role.
Tech work is generally classy, and Lucio Godoy’s score is a plus. Book’s original Sicilian setting has been relocated to the southern region of Puglia, but there are few shots to suggest the story’s Italian setting.