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‘An Almost Ordinary Summer’: Film Review

Two hitherto-heterosexual men's relationship roils their families in an enjoyable if glib ensemble comedy.

An Almost Ordinary Summer
Palm Springs Film Festival

The news that two hitherto heterosexual patriarchs are getting married — to each other — roils both of their families in amiable “An Almost Ordinary Summer.” This slickly produced second feature for director Simone Godano is easy to enjoy, even if its frequently sitcom-ish tilt makes for a movie too glib to support the occasional stabs at deeper emotional terrain. Released last February on its home turf, the Italian comedy was selected to open this year’s Palm Springs Film Festival following several other prominent American fest screenings. Wolfe will give it a limited U.S. theatrical release on Jan. 10, with a home-formats launch on Jan. 21.

A spectacularly situated cliffside villa in coastal Gaeta is the getaway home for wealthy art dealer Toni (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), who has gathered his Earth Mother sister (Lunetta Savino) and his daughters (Jasmine Trinca, Clara Ponsot) there for his birthday. Somewhat to their surprise, he’s supposedly rented out the guest house to a clan of working-class strangers led by Roman fishmonger Carlo (Alessandro Gassmann).

But this turns out to be a ruse. In fact, Toni and Carlo have been seeing each other for over a year, and plan a wedding in three weeks. This is startling news to all, particularly Carlo’s rather homophobic son Sandro (Filippo Scicchitano) and the more resentfully needy among Toni’s offspring, Penelope aka Penny (Jasmine Trinca). She soon sets about ruining this surprise relationship by various devious means, with sporadic help from an ambivalent Sandro, plus eventually her late-arriving mother Giulietta (Anna Galiena), Toni’s past partner for 30 years.

That sabotage is a bit of an uphill battle, because pretty much everyone else proves fine with the whole “gay thing,” including various grade-school-aged grandchildren. Indeed, the greater hurdle here seems not Penny’s scheming, but the incompatibility of the ostensibly happy couple: Neither the casting nor Godano and Giulia Steigerwalt’s screenplay manage to convince us that Toni and Carlo have love, or anything else, in common. The actors are an odd physical match (though not far apart in age, Bentivoglio looks like a stiff old man alongside youthful Gassmann), and the sometimes broadly etched class differences are compounded by our sense that despite already having spent months together, their characters somehow barely know each other at all.

What they learn from seeing one another interact with their respective families seems acceptably deal-breaking — rendering it pure rom-com contrivance that we’re meant to root for their union anyway. Still, “An Almost Ordinary Summer” (whose Italian title translates to the less-generic “Torture and Delight”) more or less gets away with that fundamental flaw by focusing less on the central relationship than on the mostly farcical inter-family squabbling that flies around it.

The film flirts with darker psychological content in the form of self-pitying spoilsport Penny, whom Sandro’s wife Carolina (Rosa Diletta Rossi) accurately pegs as “one of those people who needs to hurt others to feel good.” But in the end, there’s no conflict that can’t be resolved in a formulaic feel-good fashion. It’s typical that the best-written scene, an awkwardly heartfelt confrontation between father and son, is immediately defused by a rote time-passing montage set to a blowsy pop song. The finale is inevitably silly, schmaltzy, and crowd-pleasing.

Though there’s not much room for depth here, the strong cast does well, while Gassmann and Scicchitano create the most fully-rounded characters of the lot. (Bentivoglio is fine, but really, did he have to play Toni as literally limp-wristed?)

“Piranhas” DP Daniele Cipri’s warm widescreen lensing and Tonino Zera’s handsome production design make this movie the kind of travelogue eye-candy that will set some viewers to investigating vacation options in the locations depicted.

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‘An Almost Ordinary Summer’: Film Review

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Jan. 2, 2020. (In Palm Springs, Seattle, Frameline film festivals.) Running time: 101 MIN. (Original title: “Croce e Delizia”)

  • Production: (Italy) A Wolfe release of a Warner Bros. Pictures presentation of a Warner Bros. Entertainment Italia, Picomedia, Groenlandia production. (Int'l sales: True Colours, Rome.) Producers: Matteo Rovere, Roberto Sessa.
  • Crew: Director: Simone Godano. Screenplay: Giulia Steigerwalt, from a story by Steigerwalt, Godano. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Daniele Cipri. Editor: Gianni Vezzosi. Music: Andrea Farri.
  • With: Alessandro Gassmann, Jasmine Trinca, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Filippo Scicchitano, Lunetta Savino , Anna Galiena, Rosa Diletta Rossi, Clara Ponsot, Giandomenico Cupaiuolo, Fabrizio Bizzarro, Olivia Godano, Davide Santoro. (Italian, French dialogue.)
  • Music By: