It’s quite an achievement to set back gay representation on Italian screens by about 30 years, but Valeria Golino’s second feature as director manages to accomplish that dubious feat. “Euphoria” is a dolled-up mess of a movie featuring Riccardo Scamarcio as a rich and glamorous “entrepreneur” who takes it on himself to hide his brother’s cancer diagnosis from everyone involved. Don’t bother asking why, because the only possible answer, reinforced at every turn, is that each and every character is intellectually deficient. The real surprise is how Golino, whose directorial debut “Miele” showed such subtle maturity, could think that this mess of a script was worth putting on screen. Slick production values, a name cast and the kind of family-centric disease-of-the-week storyline beloved of matinee audiences will equal good box office at home.
If Golino and her fellow scriptwriters brought in gay author Walter Siti to add an authentically queer vibe, the gambit failed miserably, as Matteo (Scamarcio, dressed by Prada) and his circle play like a 1990s heterosexual fantasy of how gay men behave. What exactly does Matteo do? One moment he’s pitching a campaign to the Church to allow a Japanese beauty company to restore an Andrea del Sarto painting (which, by the way, isn’t Church property), and the next he’s concocting some shyster scheme to turn a profit from African charity. Bottom line: He’s a narcissistic snake-oil salesman living in an impossibly grand apartment where decorously boisterous friends inevitably congregate every night on the terrace because, well, they’re fabulous.
The fly in the ointment comes when his sheepish, unambitious school-teacher brother Ettore (Valerio Mastandrea, cast to type) is diagnosed with advanced brain cancer. Rather than be upfront about it, Matteo tells Ettore, their mother (Marzia Ubaldi), and Ettore’s estranged wife Michela (Isabella Ferrari) that he simply has a cyst, and while it might be tricky to treat, he’ll be fine. But why would the doctors go along with this charade? Why would the family, let alone Ettore himself, agree to receive all information through Matteo? Best not to think about these minor details, since the important takeaway is the story of how the selfish brother who thinks he can control everything learns that sometimes life throws us a curveball. Calf augmentations will satisfy his vanity, but not even a pilgrimage with Ettore to the Virgin Mary’s sanctuary at Medjugorje will salve Matteo’s damaged soul: Only fraternal love can do that.
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There’s one real character in the whole movie, and that’s Elena (Jasmine Trinca), the woman Ettore’s fallen in love with, but her sense of authenticity comes more from Trinca’s understated performance than how the part is written. Otherwise, “Euphoria” is populated with the kinds of one-dimensional roles found in sitcom pilots. Included in this group are Luca (Andrea Germani), who seems to mostly live in Matteo’s enormous walk-in closet and is described as his “lady-in-waiting,” and Tatiana (Valentina Cervi, sadly wasted) as the requisite fag-hag who can’t sustain a relationship. The only exciting presence on screen appears in the opening minute, when Matteo’s naked trick (dancer Angelo Recchia) imbues more energy into those 60 seconds than everyone else over the entire running time.