Don’t you just hate it when a tearjerker works?
The manipulation’s built-in, understood, right there in the open for you to put up your guard against. And then…dammit.
Netflix put “18 Presents (18 Regali)” on its menu just in time for America’s “Mother’s Day,” a fantasy about a girl who has to grow up without her mother, and turns 18 thoroughly embittered about it.
And then, an accident. Sullen, lashing-out Anna (Benedetta Porcaroli, haunted and gaunt) wakes up, and it’s not next to the Saab that knocked her down. It’s her mother’s VW, and her mother (the luminous Vittoria Puccini) is standing over her.
Elissa is pregnant, and Anna “meets” her on the worst day — the day Mom got the news of the cancer that will kill her in childbirth.
After Anna puts this incredible turn of events together, she will hide her real identity from her mother and experience the woman she never got to know. They will bond and bicker, and Elissa will never be the wiser.
Director Francesco Amata (“Let Yourself Go”) hits his marks and takes us through the preliminaries — a montage of Anna’s increasingly fraught birthdays leading towards that 18th, the gifts her hyper-organized mother bought and set aside for each birthday — a bicycle, dresses, diving lessons, a piano, “18 Presents” — and Anna’s acting-out against this as the years go by.
Immature soccer coach Dad (Edoardo Leo) seems like the last guy who could guide her through this difficulty. He’s a procrastinator, doesn’t handle the bad news from Elissa with her strength. Anna never gave him any credit.
The prologue has promise, with Anna acting out in her sport (synchronized diving), hurting others, running away only to get “picked up” by a creeper in a Beemer who turns out to be an old friend of Dad’s.
The mother-daughter bonding moments pay off beautifully, a “feel her kicking” moment in the quiet of a pool, little kindnesses that show Anna growing the heart her mother always hoped she would have.
And then there’s Anna’s realization of just what a horror her mother faced, sitting in (as this new “friend”) on Mom’s cancer support group, the burden she carried even as her husband was reaching for a miracle “second opinion.” There are other surprise revelations in store, and Anna has “suggestions” that redirect her mother’s “presents.”
It’s not as tidy as it might be, a 95 minute melodrama soaking in 115 minutes of movie.
But the emotional punches in this film (in Italian, with English subtitles) reminded me of “Peggy Sue Got Married,” thanks largely to how Puccini and Porcaroli play them. The poignant moments may be sentimental, but they work.
That goes for the film as well. Contrived, manipulative? Sure. But sweet and subtle and even surprising, here and there.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, smoking, profanity, adult situations
Cast: Vittoria Puccini, Benedetta Porcaroli, Edoardo Leo and Sara Lazzaro
Credits: Directed by Francesco Amato, script by Francesco Amato, Massimo Gaudioso, Davide Lantieri Alessio Vicenzotto. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:54