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‘Mambo’ is more sitcom than farce

An Italian family’s reaction to their gay son’s brave new world
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gay and Italian — the comic possibilities of “Mambo Italiano” are mind-boggling. The reality is less so. No Godfathers and drag queens here, just a broad farce about a nice Italian boy who wants to get an apartment with another nice Italian boy in Montreal’s tradition-bound Little Italy.

Director Emile Gaudreault tries to find the funny bone in Steve Galluccio’s play of the same name, but ends up with only a mildly amusing, too-tame “Intro to Gay Life 101.”

What worked so well for the play — exaggerated stereotypes, plenty of one-liners, contrived situations and a narrator — feels more like a pilot for a sitcom than a film.

Part of the problem is that Angelo Barberini (Luke Kirby), the narrator and son who is trying to move out of the family home, has no chemistry with Nino (Peter Miller), his alleged soulmate and boy next door.

Their lack of passion is so glaring I was surprised at the movie’s R rating. Sex? What sex? Do they mean sitting in bed talking like an old married couple?

Much of “Mambo Italiano” focuses on Angelo’s immigrant parents Maria (Ginette Reno) and Gino (Paul Sorvino) and their reaction to the brave new world of a gay son. The two veterans carry this comedy of manners on their broad shoulders, conveying so much with just a raised eyebrow or a snort — a joy to watch.

In their cleverest exchange, Maria and Gino debate how to react when a neighbor sends them a wedding invitation for her son. It cannot simply be an invitation. It has to be a slap at them for having a gay son.

At first they decide not to go.

“We stay home!” Gino roars.

Then they decide the invitation is a plot to humiliate them and if they don’t go, they will lose face in the community.

“We go, of course!” Gino roars.

Then there is the question of the present.

“We give nothing!” Gino roars.

But others might think they are just cheap.

“We give beautiful present!” Gino roars.

By the time the two are satisfied, both will have new outfits, they will dance the entire night and the wedding present will be to die for.

Mary Walsh has campy fun with the role of Nino’s mother, a 50-something sexpot who is convinced that she could not have raised a gay son, it had to be the influence of that barbarian Angelo. Plotting madly, she drags in the voracious, man-eating Lina (Sophie Lorain) to lure Nino away.

How will it all turn out? No worries. This family is dysfunctional, not broken. Everything will be resolved over a fine tomato sauce.