'A Golden Boy': Film Review

A Golden Boy Still - H 2014

A Golden Boy Still - H 2014

Pupi Avati’s heartfelt story about a writing genius with a father problem fails to be even sentimental

Any film that brings Sharon Stone and Italian heartthrob Riccardo Scamarcio together on screen can’t be all bad

The presence of a bright, shining Sharon Stone in A Golden Boy (Un ragazzo d’oro) strikes an odd note in Pupi Avati’s dark Oedipal drama about a mentally ill ad writer, whose dream of publishing serious fiction is hopelessly entangled in animosity towards his father. The cobbled-together story surprisingly won the best screenplay award at Montreal, but it’s certainly not the film’s strong point. That distinction has to go to Riccardo Scamarcio in his most challenging role to date as a young writer sinking inexorably into madness. Despite the work of a starry cast, which includes veteran Giovanna Ralli and Cristiana Capotondi, the film has a plodding obviousness that dampens the drama. After under-performing on its Italian release, it should turn up on DVD very soon.

There are early warning signs that 30-something Davide Bias (Scamarcio) is teetering on the edge. He scathingly overreacts to criticism and closes himself off from girlfriend Silvia (an atypically mousy Capotondi), while neurotically popping pills prescribed by a friendly shrink. Nothing very startling for an ambitious young Turk in a high-powered Milan ad agency, were it not for his negative fixation with his father, a screenwriter of popular trash movies. When his mother (Ralli) calls in tears to say he’s died in a car accident, Davide just shrugs. But how could he miss a chance to act up at his detested père’s funeral?  So the action switches from dynamic young Milan to mummified old Rome, as he reluctantly returns to the musty, rambling apartment where he grew up.   

He sees an unbridgeable divide separating his own serious literary aspirations and Dad’s B-movies.  One of the latter’s choice vulgar comedies is amusingly introduced by a film critic as something that would appeal to Tarantino, and genre aficionados will be happy to recognize photos of Alvaro Vitali, Tomas Milian and the like on the wall. But this superficiality is not the final truth, as Davide is to discover. At the urging of Ludovica Stern (Stone), the world’s most glamorous book publisher and Dad’s last unrequited flame, he discovers a secret autobiographical novel that his father was writing before his death – one he’s never finished, in fact barely begun.

According the screenplay penned by the director and his son Tommaso Avati, the fascinating, poised and very married Ludovica senses a great work of art hovering just beyond her grasp, and prods him to give her the manuscript, chapter by chapter. He starts coming to their Roman rendezvous dressed in Dad’s clothes, wearing a little moustache with his hair slicked back, tell-tale signs she chooses to ignore. In any case, Davide’s descent into loopiness is uncomfortably unmotivated, or rather it seems (as many may have always suspected) that writing itself is an unhinging activity.

The bello Scamarcio has been growing as an actor from film to film and makes a valiant stab at impersonating the mad artist, without quite pulling it off. At least he keeps Davide edgy throughout. Stone has too little to do here but smile seductively, and is never able to explore Ludovica’s exploitative side as she coaxes what she wants out of Davide for the price of a few chaste kisses, again linking him to his father.

Then there’s Ralli’s very fine, stage-worthy performance as his anxious mother who pretends she doesn’t know what he’s doing locked in his father’s study, and the surprisingly duplicitous Capotondi who knows very well. Interesting psychological complications, these, but they are dropped as the story builds to an irony-laden finale which is supposed to bring out the kleenexes. Most viewers will find it too pat for tears, though.

Stone doesn’t have to reach far to play an intellectual femme fatale, and her sunny blonde exudes as much seductive cool as any dark lady. Her appeal even comes through in an underwritten part and stilted, overly formal dialogue worsened by dubbing into fluent but flat, nasal Italian that doesn’t really lip-sync.   

While Avati has always preferred faux-naif as a style for his sometimes deceptively simple stories, this film has a different, more up-to-date look. Nothing lush, costly or avant-garde, but pleasing peeks at authentic Italian style, both high and low, courtesy of production designer Marinella Perrotta  and D.P. Blasco Giurato.

A 01 release (in Italy) of a Combo Produzioni, Duea Film production in association with Rai Cinema
Cast: Sharon Stone, Riccardo Scamarcio, Cristiana Capotondi, Giovanna Ralli, Christian Stelluti, Osvaldo Ruggieri, Tommaso Ragno

Director: Pupi Avati
Screenwriters: Pupi Avati, Tommaso Avati
Producers: Antonio Avati, Flavia Parnasi
Executive producer: Mario Mazzarotto
Director of photography: Blasco Giurato
Production designer: Marinella Perrotta
Costume designer: Beatrice Giannini, Flavia Liberatori
Editor: Luigi Capalbo
Music: Raphael Gualazzi

No rating, 95 minutes