BIG MAMMA’S BOY. Starring: Frank Lotito, Holly Valance, Carmelina Di Guglielmo, Costas Kilias, Pia Miller, Georgwe Kapiniaris, Maria Venuti and Osvaldo Maione. Directed by: Franco di Chera. Rated: PG (Mild coarse language, sexual references and nudity). 98 minutes.
Frank Lotito’s Big Mamma’s Boy tagline is ‘a comedy about life, love and lasagna’, a clear sign that its creator and lead actor is poking fun at multicultural Australia in the well-worn tradition of Nick Giannopoulos’ Wog boys, the television sit-com Acropolis Now, and Paul French’s Lebanese-flavoured Fat Pizza.
Lotito plays a 35 year-old real estate agent, Rocco Pilegiome, struggling to escape the clutches of his over possessive Italian mother (Carmelina Di Guglielmo), who bakes him lasagne each day for lunch, much to the delight of Rocco’s boss Theo (George Kapiniaris), and his workmates.
Rocco has more or less worked out a way of coping with his mother’s crippling neediness, and is almost ready to leave home. But when he falls for Katie (Holly Valance), a savvy and beautiful newcomer at the office, his juvenile attempts to placate his increasingly demanding mother and impress Katie, threatens to destroy almost any chance he has of Katie taking him seriously.
Rocco finds himself in a stream of self-inflicted comic situations, from trying to seduce Katie in a posh suburban house that is up for sale but which he pretends is his own, to some seriously funny housekeeping lessons at the home of Mrs Cotoletta (Maria Venuti), his neighbour across the road.
Underlying the buffoonery of Big Mamma’s Boy is a serious theme: Rocco’s problems stem largely from his mother’s increasing dependency on him since the death of his father, aggravated by Rocco’s culturally engrained sense of filial duty and responsibility.
Other cultures have similar expectations and exert similar pressures on their sons and daughters. Woody Allen has been mining Jewish guilt for decades, and few could fail to be moved by the situation of the main character in Ana Kokkinos' Head On.
But Big Mamma’s Boy isn’t in the same league as the above films. It has pace and is well acted and directed. It’s local and it makes you laugh. It deals mainly with stereotypes, but this is neither new, or a bad thing. Comedy more often than not relies upon stereotyping and larger than life characters as a way of making us see ourselves in others.
Where Big Mama’s Boy lets itself down is its inability to make new what is old. Acropolis Now and the Wog boys came from the need of their creators to not only lampoon and send up the culture that they came from, but to express their pride and affection for it. The result was to turn the word ‘wog’ on its head, and make us laugh at our prejudices.
Big Mamma’s Boy has laughs, but two decades on, it feels passé. Without the bite of contemporary relevance, even good performances and a catchy tune from Australian Idol winner Natalie Gauci might make it difficult for this home grown product to appeal to wider audiences.
Mrs Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out July 28 2011.