Your small child, grandchild or favorite niece may be adorable.
But she will never be on the Italan cheek-pinching cute level of Jennifer Brokshi, playing tiny Agata in the sometimes charming Italian fantasy, “The Man Without Gravity.”
Agata is about 6 when she becomes the first villager outside the family to set eyes on Oscar (Pietro Pescara), a little boy hidden from the world by his mother (Michela Cescon) on orders from his devoutly religious grandmother (Elena Cotta), who regards Oscar’s father-unknown birth as “a sign from the Lord to punish us!”
Oscar can fly. Well, he can float — like a balloon, weightless. The only way he’s able to slip out and see the village and stumble into mouthy-worldly Agata is with the weights his mom gave him for his gravity-restoring vest. Oscar and Agata bond, instantly, in the way little kids do. She’s innocuously insulting about all the things he doesn’t seem to know.
“Stupido! EVERYbody’s got a Daddy,” she rails (in Italian with English subtitles), explaining how Jesus won’t know him in heaven without a daddy, or some such.
And then he drops the weights, she turns around and her little friend is floating up against an awning, the only thing keeping him from low Earth orbit.
“Mamma mia! STUPENDO! What ELSE can you do?”
And even though she’s disappointed that he can’t turn himself invisible or knock down buildings, “half a Superman” she pouts, they become inseparable.
“Man Without Gravity” is a romantic parable about celebrity, destiny, about being an “Extraordinary Man” but having to keep that a secret, and about what that does to the ego and the heart.
It’s never more charming in those early scenes, a little boy obsessed with Batman and his tiny girlfriend who thinks he’s “half a Superman.” Setting up the reality we’re dealing with her is the amusing part of Marco Banfonti’s film. How such a baby is born, literally tethered by the umbilical cord, how a working poor mother and grandmother adapt and take babyproofing their dumpy apartment for a child who float (nailing padded quilts to the ceiling), those dominate the first act.
Agata? She’s Oscar’s first real experience of the world, and he is smitten. We know it cannot last.
The middle acts take Oscar (now played by Elio Germano) into a frustrated, circumscribed adulthood, derisively nicknamed “The Backpack” because of the pink pack (filled with weights) that Agata once gave him to keep his feet on the ground. He’s treated as “special,” but not in a good way. And he’s smart enough to let that depress him, until he breaks free to become famous via a Eurovision “Extraordinary Man” reality TV contest. Of course, once he “flies” on live TV, he’s nabbed by a manager who turns him into a TV show horse. This third of the film squanders all the magic of the first third, thanks to the grim business of adulthood when you’re trapped in the life you don’t want.
We know Italian TV will twist and contort Oscar’s life story and “gift” into something even more sensational. And we can pretty much expect him to rebel against that.
But some of the wistful romance and whimsy is recovered for the finale, where the “discovery” of childhood returns. “Gravity” only floats free when the fantasy is at its most childish.
It doesn’t quite come off, and the “message” of this parable is either murky or too mundane to pay off. But there’s just enough here to make “The Man Without Gravity” worth your trouble, if only to see and hear how adorable Italian kids, just learning to insult, to love and to talk with their hands, can be.
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Cast: Elio Germano, Michela Cescon, Elena Cotta, Silvia D’Amico, Vincent Scarito, Pietro Pescara, Jennifer Brokshi
Credits: Directed by Marco Bonfanti, script by Marco Bonfanti and Giulio Carrieri. A Netfllix release.
Running tiime: 1:43