One can abide many things from a screen comedy, but “pointlessness” is a real hard sell for me.
That’s a major gripe about the Italian farce “The Price of Family,” titled “Natale a tutti i costi” in the mother tongue.
A movie filled with characters irritating enough to get under your skin, with almost no one likable enough to root for or empathize with, it ruins even that “hate watching” quality by the time the credits roll. In the end, it’s just a dull, mirth-starved muddle that barely gets up on its feet long enough to fall flat.
It’s about bratty, self-absorbed adult kids and their needy, annoying empty-nest parents.
We meet Alessandra (Dharma Mangia Woods) and Emilio (Claudio Colica) on the day they’re leaving home. Both are moving from suburbia to “the city,” out of college and ready to strike out on their own. But at least they’ll come home for holidays, birthdays, funerals and the like, right? Family is everything in Italy, after all.
Nothing doing. A skipped holiday here, a missed funeral there. Next thing you know, Mom (Angela Finocchiaro) is cooking a big dinner, baking a cake — the works — and birthday girl Alessandra is a no show. Put-upon workaholic Emilio doesn’t come, either. They won’t even pick up the phone when Dad (Christian de Sica) wants to know what gives?
The little rompicoglionis.
Mom, competing with the neighbor whose doting daughter never misses a visit, is beside herself. They aren’t planning on coming Christmas, either?
So Anna and Carlo decide to play a little “joke.” That aunt’s funeral they skipped? Maybe the aunt left Anna and Carlo a big inheritance. Maybe they’ll let that slip and see just how shallow and “too busy” their kids really are. Anna’s mom (Fioretta Mari) tries to warn them.
“Revenge can be a little bit like getting too drunk,” she intones (in Italian, or dubbed into English). “When you need to stop, you’re unable to.”
The parents set up the trick with a bit of ghosting and a little conspicuous consumption — designer clothes for her, a (rented) Ferrari for him. Lo and behold, the prodigal children return, all attentive and affectionate and what not.
Sure, Emilio still gives his mom his laundry. And yes, Alessandra’s kind of adrift, having taken a job as a dentist’s receptionist and live-in lover, with vacation plans for every holiday.
But hey, nothing’s more important than family, right?
Writer-director Giovanni Bognetti (“I, Babysitter”) takes a shot at making this inconsequential comedy come off. First, things blow up on the callow kids. Then the parents are trapped in their web of lies and things blow up on them.
The leads are pretty bland, and the only supporting player to register is Alesssandro Betti, who plays Emilio’s abusive boss who is one of those who hears “money” and changes his tune. A little.
Nobody in this is likable, nothing about this is all that interesting and in the end, that whole “pointlessness” business kind of makes you wonder where where your 90 minutes went.
Rating: TV-MA, profanity
Cast: Christian de Sica, Angela Finocchiaro, Dharma Mangia Woods,
Claudio Colica, Alessandro Betti and Fioretta Mari.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Giovanni Bognetti. A Sony film on Netflix.
Running time: 1:30