'Soap Opera': Rome Review

Soap Opera Still - H 2014
Loris T. Zambelli

Soap Opera Still - H 2014

A gushy comic crowdpleaser that’s Made in Italy, and will likely stay there

Writer-director Alessandro Genovesi’s latest comedy opened this year’s Rome Film Festival

The title pretty much says it all: Soap Opera, the latest ensemble comedy from Italian hitmaker Alessandro Genovesi (The Worst Week of My Life), is a broad and gushy crowdpleaser that should rake in sizeable coin at the local box office when it’s released next week, but will be of little appeal to anyone living outside the boot. A strategic choice to open this year’s Rome Film Festival, whose program is catering more to homegrown tastes than in recent editions, this extremely lightweight affair clumsily tackles some heavy issues – suicide, parenthood, sexuality – via a handful of characters living in the same Milanese apartment building just as New Year’s Eve rolls around.

The calculated holiday setting recalls Genovesi’s last film, The Worst Christmas of My Life, which also starred Fabio de Luigi, although here he’s playing less of a bumbling, Ben Stiller-style fool than a depressive 40-year-old named Francesco – a man with no clear redeeming qualities (which is perhaps why he’s seen reading Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, in one stagy scene that takes place in a trolley car).

First introduced while having rough sex with a woman (Caterina Guzzanti) whose name he can’t remember, and whom he unceremoniously stuffs under his bed when someone rings the doorbell, Francesco is not the kind of guy one wants to root for. This may explain why Soap Opera never really takes off once the story kicks in, which involves a love rectangle between Francesco, his best bud (comic star Ricky Memphis), his pregnant ex (Cristiana Captondi), and a Paris-based beauty (French actress-model Elisa Sednaoui) who shows up just as her boyfriend – a quiet next door neighbor – blows his brains out.

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The death sends shockwaves through the building, whose residents also include a sex-crazed soap star (Chiara Francini) with a fetish for men in uniform, and an irascible pair of twin brothers (stage comic duo Ale & Franz) who somewhat recall Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple, except here they fight about masturbating and making herbal tea. Add to this an oversized Keystone cop (Diego Abatantuono) who looks as if Zero Mostel had slapped on eyeliner and fallen asleep for a few hours on the tanning bed, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an overblown Italian affair oscillating between easy gags, tearjerking music and a love story whose outcome is ensured from the get-go.

Genovesi tries to hold the material together with glossy, Hollywood studio-style aesthetics, staging several sequences beneath a blanket of cottony snow and pulling the camera back a few times to reveal the entire apartment set, which was handsomely designed by Tonino Zera (Romeo & Juliet). But the polished look, including deep-hued cinematography by regular Federico Masiero, cannot compensate for a script that dubiously wraps everything up by the time midnight strikes, giving each character what they want but leaving us wondering if there should be more. Or maybe less.

Production companies: Colorado Film, Wildside, in collaboration with Medusa Film
Cast: Fabio de Luigi, Cristiana Captondi, Ricky Memphis, Chiara Francini, Elisa Sednaoui, Diego Abatantuono
Director, screenwriter: Alesssandro Genovesi
Producers: Maurizio Totti, Alessandro Usai, Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Mieli
Director of photography: Federico Masiero
Production designer: Tonino Zera
Costume designer: Monica Gaetani
Editor: Claudio di Mauro
Composer: Andrea Farri

No rating, 86 minutes