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Shake Well Before Using - Excellent New Italian Comedy
Much to my surprise, given Italian cinema's penchant for comedy that alternates between depressingly adolescent sex farces that would have seemed dated ten years ago and diabetes-inducing romances, Genitori e Figli: Agitare Bene Prima dell'Uso (Parents and Children: Shake Well before Using) is a rather delightful light comedy. Like all films of its genre, it floats superficially over virtually every issue it raises, but nonetheless manages to provide at least a smattering of deeper perspective on the usual stereotypes: the pretty-boy would-be actor who auditions for a TV reality show has actually put some thought into the direction he wants his life to take; the 15-year-old girl contemplating her first sexual experience isn't a mindless flirt who has no clue how a sexual relationship might change her. Indeed, this is one of the few Italian comedies I've seen that could actually have a life overseas: its references to Italian pop culture and social and political realities, etc., are handled lightly enough to allow them to "translate" beyond Italy's borders, and the genuinely "Made in Italy" aspects mark the film as Italian without making it incomprehensibly cliquish and inward-directed. There are no real standouts among the cast (though Michele Placido is charming as a curmudgeonly father and high-school teacher). Luciana Littizzetto is much more convincing and touching than I would have expected her to be (she works mainly as a cabaret comic), while Silvio Orlando is over-the-top and, in some scenes, nearly unwatchable. Having recently seen some of Mario Monicelli's older comedies (Parenti serpenti, Speriamo che sia femmina), which are delightful even if they show their age, I'm impressed by the snapshot of contemporary Italy that Veronesi provides here. Some of it will be surprising (an elderly cardiac patient left in a hospital ward without electronic monitoring of any kind; the ritual of the "gavettoni"a high-school prank in which students attack one another with water-balloons on the last day of the school year), while other elements will be recognizable most anywhere in the Western world. For Italy, though, even joking about the "expanded" or "blended" family requires an act of courage, and in Genitori e Figli Veronesi manages to squeeze a lot of truth in between the laughs.
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