There are more than a few laughs in the coming-of-age dramedy “The Invisible Thread,” about a teen coming to terms with himself and his life with “my two dads.” This Italian “Around the World with Netflix” outing (in Italian, or dubbed into British English) has lovely messaging about parenthood, first love, infidelity, drugs…oh, and Italy’s laughably slow march to legal and social acceptance of gay rights.
And even if “Il filo invisbile” as they call it in Rome stumbles a lot, lapses into melodrama and really doesn’t know when to get off stage, it finishes with a simple “family” image so warm it could move you to tears.
So, a mixed bag? Very much so. But it’s one of the most interesting Italian offerings Netflix has financed, a comedy of misunderstandings and gender expectations, “traditional” vs “unconventional” family clashes and that “edge” that even teen-oriented tales from Italy always deliver.
Leone (Francesco Gheghi) is 15 and together with his best-mate Jacopo (Emanuele Maria Di Stefano) is putting the finishing touches on their class video project, “My Colorful Family.” He’s narrated the broad strokes of all his two dads (Francesco Scianna, Filippo Timi) went through and gave up to have him, from California college pal surrogate (Jodhi May) to legal battles in Italy over everything from his parents’ right to marry to whose names would be on the kid’s birth certificate.
One dad is an anthropologist who ended up running a restaurant, the other a trained architect who settled for owning a kitchen-renovation design business. But they’ve raised a kid in comfort and love, which is all anybody could ask for.
They’ve never taken DNA tests to see who exactly “fathered” the lad. There was never any need, even though “knowing” that would make their documentary more exciting, Jacopo argues.
The parents are uneasy about this project as it is, with restaurateur Simone (Timi) feigning annoyance but architect Paolo (Scianna) fretting that they’ve “raised an opportunist,” willing to “exploit” their unusual private lives for personal gain.
Naturally, events conspire to make that test a necessity. What’s impressive here is the amount of clutter director Marco Simon Puccioni and his co-writers conjure up to point us to that foreshadowed climax.
Leone has to fall in love with the new French girl Anna (Guilia Maenza). Her family has to get all confused over Leone’s parentage, with her brawling bully of a brother Dario (Matteo Oscar Giuggioli) leaping to the his own conclusions.
Jacopo’s science experiments with drugs could interfere — the subtitling/dubbing tries to scrub “cocaine” and ecstasy down to “weed” in a couple of instances. And the school’s obsession with rock-climbing as a sport sets us up for tests beyond the emotional ones that Leone is overwhelmed with.
Puccioni (“Shelter Me”) serves up a few almost-madcap fights and ever-so-Italian shouting matches about sex, sexuality, parentage and cheating and makes a few jokes at California’s expense, a whole lot more at Italy’s expense, with various characters stirring the pot and creating the misunderstandings.
Gheghi is something of a blank slate as our lead, but Maenza picks up the slack as a classic “I’m pretty so I get away with being rude, creating conflict and what have you.” Di Stefano and Giugglioli make sharp impressions in roles that border on being simple “types.”
The two dads are best showcased in shouting matches that point towards a breakup, which plays out as alternately sad and amusing.
And always in the background are those not-quite-getting-it Italians — Anna and Dario, their mom, lawyers, “the system,” hospital doctors and admissions clerks. Perhaps that “culture changing/culture clash” stuff plays funnier in Italy. Let’s hope so.
“The Invisible Thread” could do with a little streamlining, although some of the complications produce daft moments and exasperated laughs.
Clutter aside, it’s a likeable, well-intentioned mess of a comedy, one that’ll leave you with the warm fuzzies even if it loses the “thread” once, twice or thrice along the way.
Rating: TV-MA, drug abuse, sexual situations, profanity
Cast: Francesco Gheghi, Francesco Scianna, Filippo Timi, Giulia Maenza, Emanuele Maria Di Stefano, Matteo Oscar Giuggioli and Jodhi May.
Credits: Directed by Marco Simon Puccioni, scripted by Luca De Bei, Gianluca Bernardini and Marco Simon Puccioni. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:49