Alessandro Genovesi’s laffer “Soap Opera,” the opening-night film at the Rome Film Festival, would seem an ideal expression of the event’s announced shift toward populist fare, though these yuks won’t be slaying ’em in the aisles. Genovesi (“The Worst Week of My Life”) delivers a choral story about oddball neighbors in much the way that soaps create artificial hothouse worlds, only his formulaic approach, doling out a little comedy and a little schmaltz, results in a very minor affair. Locals may be attuned to this sort of blandness, but outside Italy, no one will bother.
On a snowy New Year’s Eve, Paolo (Ricky Memphis) arrives in crisis at the apartment of best friend Francesco (Fabio de Luigi): His g.f. is about to give birth, but he’s wondering whether a passionate kiss he gave Francesco when they were cub scouts means he’s gay. Francesco remains dejected following his break-up with the equally depressed Anna (Cristiana Capotondi), who ended things when she learned he was cheating on her.
That night, a new neighbor kills himself, bringing police inspector Gaetano (Diego Abatantuono) to call on the residents. Soap actress Alice (Chiara Francini) loves men in uniform, so at least she’s happy. Also in the building are twin brothers Gianni and Mario (popular comedians Ale and Franz), the latter wheelchair-bound after a recent unspecified accident caused by Gianni. A surprise visit from the dead neighbor’s ex-g.f., Francesca (Elisa Sednaoui), stirs something in Francesco, but he’s really still in love with Anna.
Every woman here is a caricature: They’re either hysterical, like Francesco’s one-night stand, Patrizia (Caterina Guzzanti, mugging), sexually voracious like Alice, or blankly nutty like Anna. Even Francesca is a stereotype of the beautiful Parisian resident whose “normality” makes her fit only for fantasy. As for comedy, the pic might succeed in milking a few chuckles from middle-of-the-road auds for whom the sight of fraternal twins wearing identical outfits tickles the funny bone, or who might guffaw at suggestive lines about the plume on the inspector’s hat. Riffing on the artificiality of soaps to find genuine emotion underneath could have been a good idea, but the concept is far more ambitious than the execution.
Stylistically, the most appealing element comes from a couple of fixed shots of the apartment building, its facade off, looking like a doll’s house. Genovesi overuses a couple of tracks from talented pop singer Lara Martelli; otherwise, Andrea Farri’s soppy score starts and ends exactly where one expects.