NEW YORK -- A sweet-natured drama in the ethnic mode that is lately proving such a popular indie trend, this debut feature written and directed by Melissa Martin is a slice of Italian-American cheese that may prove a bit hard for audiences to fully digest. Featuring such plot elements as an elderly woman dying of cancer, a lovable, learning-impaired lug and a couple who pretend to get married only to, surprise, actually fall in love, "The Bread, My Sweet" has apparently wowed them on the festival circuit and in Pittsburgh, where the film was shot, but anything resembling breakout potential is unlikely.
Scott Baio, whose role as television's Chachi has forever doomed him to trivia-game-answer status, delivers a highly effective and restrained performance as Dominic Pyzola, a young Italian-American who improbably divides his working time between serving as a ruthless acquisitions executive for a big corporation and baking biscotti in the family bakery that he also manages. His partners in the business are his brothers Pino (Shuler Hensley
), whose mental deficiency doesn't prevent him from being a first-class baker, and Eddie (Billy Mott), a struggling actor.
The brothers' surrogate mother is their endearing upstairs neighbor Bella (theater and soap opera veteran Rosemary Prinz
), who lives with her brusque, English-impaired husband Massimo (John Seitz
). When Bella learns that she has but six months to live, she has one request for Dominic: reunite her with her estranged daughter Lucca (Kristin Minter
), who left law school years ago for the Peace Corps. Not only does Dominic fulfill the request, he decides to go it one better. In order to make Bella truly happy before she dies, he'll pretend to marry Lucca, whose beauty and grace don't exactly make the task difficult.
If you're willing to swallow those formulaic plot machinations, you may reasonably enjoy this rough-hewn debut effort, which is far more effective in its quieter, dialogue-heavy moments than when it attempts more ambitious cinematic conceits. While the supporting players fall victim to their broadly conceived roles, Baio and Minter underplay charmingly, and actually manage to make us care about their characters despite their less than credible aspects.