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Mambo italiano (2003)

Its not a democracy, its a family

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 89 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Quebecois misfit and aspiring television writer Angelo (Luke Kirby) is, as he puts it in a desperate call to a helpline, “so fucked”. His traditional Sicilian parents Maria (Ginette Reno) and Gino (Paul Sorvino) were already shocked enough when he moved out of the family home and into an apartment without yet being married, but shock turns to Latin apoplexy when they learn that his room-mate, macho Italian cop Nino (Peter Miller), is also his gay lover. Nino, meanwhile, refuses to come out of the closet, and, in an act designed both to please his mother Lina (Mary Walsh) and to deceive himself, becomes engaged to old schoolfriend Pina (Sophie Lorain). Will Angelo’s family become reconciled to his sexuality? Will Angelo ever manage to sell a script, let alone find love? And will anyone turn up to the wedding?

Adapted from a stageplay, ‘Mambo Italiano’ is a warts-and-all ethnic comedy about the clash of cultures engendered by a forbidden romance within an immigrant family from the Mediterranean – think ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as a light farce with an upbeat ending – all of which makes comparison to Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding inevitable. Given that the Greek-American community is rarely seen in films, Vardalos was able to inject new ‘anthropological’ interest into an otherwise cliché-bound plot merely by making affectionately satirical observations on her own underexposed heritage – Italian culture, on the other hand, has become so fami(g)liar on our big and small screens that wry ethnic commentary slips all too easily into trite stereotyping. To avoid this, writers Steve Galluccio and Émile Gaudreault (who also directed) give the straight plot of ‘Mambo Italiano’ an unexpected kink, subverting Italian stereotypes by exposing their queer underbelly, and transforming Italiana into high camp – whether it is the lurid kitsch that decorates the family home, the big hair (“god help us all, it’s real”, as Angelo screams when Pina’s wig-like coif fails to come off in his hands), the bitchy arguments, the absurdly proud mothers (arguing over which of their respective sons is gayer) – there are even hints, if nothing more, that Gino, the grand patriarch of the family, might himself have produced children out of duty rather than desire. Here the comic conflicts derive not from fear of the outside world, but from denial of what is within the closeted Italian community, and Angelo’s partner is not some unwelcome outsider but an Italian from a good family.

While hardly unpredictable in its formula, ‘Mambo Italiano’ races along at a refreshing pace, with enough complications and subplots to keep the attention, and plenty of sharp lines – there is even a knowing parody of ‘The Graduate’ in the wedding scene. The fact, however, that Angelo eventually transforms his coming-out experiences into a successful telescript, unfortunately serves only to highlight the sense that the film’s sitcom-lite material really might be better suited to television.

It's Got: A sister (Claudia Ferri) who never goes to the same psychiatrist twice ("you know too much about me, its embarrassing"), a television executive (Mark Camacho) who ludicrously affects all the mannerisms of a movie mafioso, and enough camp sensibility to get away with all its sweeping stereotypes.

It Needs: To feel less like a sitcom.


Charming, if TV-scaled, Italian-Canadian family comedy with a gay twist.