Directed by Emile Gaudreault
Running Time: 95 mins
Last year My Big Fat Great Wedding was an international hit at the box office. In many ways Mambo Italiano jumps on the same bus, but there are significant differences.
Gino and Maria (the legendary Italian actors Paul Sorvino and Ginette Reno) immigrated from Italy to Montreal in the early 1950's. No one told us there were two Americas. We arrived in the wrong one Canada. No one told us there were two Canadas an English one and a French one. We arrived in the wrong one Quebec! They didn't have to worry, as lots of others weren't told about this either and so their family grows up in Montreal's little Italy.
The first hint of real trouble comes when, at 28, their only son Angelo (Kirby) decides to get a place on his own. What is so wrong with living with your parents until you get married? The only relief comes when they find out that Angelo's childhood buddy Nino (Miller) has decided to move in as well. Nino is a well-know policeman and comes from a respected ghetto family. Their relief turns to horror when they find out that Angelo and
Nino are not just housemates, but are lovers. Life as Maria and Gino know it comes to a halt.
The parallels with Greek Wedding are fairly evident: the southern European imigrant story in North America; parody of the ethnic ghetto within which the first generation grows up; the importance placed on family honour, religion and marriage; the culturally conflicting values the children receive at home and away from it.
But there are serious differences. Mambo Italiano is in many respects a funnier film than Greek Wedding, but it is not just playing for laughs. It has at least two very serious messages to convey, and it does so with power.
The first concerns the heartache some families go through when they are told that one of their children is homosexual. In this film the issue is explored from both sides.
The second concern is the suffocation children of first-generation immigrant families can feel as they are caught between cultures. It was there in Greek Wedding, but not nearly as painfully as it is here.
The producers of Italian Mambo had a fraction of the money of Greek Wedding, so there are some technical problems here and there. At just over an hour and a half, the action is quick moving, and a little too episodic. But the actors carry the day and the three leads Sorvino, Reno and Kirby are superb.
There are a few brief romantic scenes between Angelo and Nino which would distress some viewers, but the film goes to great lengths not to alienate its mainstream audience with unnecessarily explicit scenes. It succeeds.
There are enough laughs in Italian Mambo to for us to leave the theatre crying, and enough tears to know that for some families the issues on the screen are very real indeed.
Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.