'Mid-August Lunch' pleasantly palatable

2010-07-09T04:15:00Z 'Mid-August Lunch' pleasantly palatableROB THOMAS | The Capital Times | rthomas@madison.com madison.com

What a pleasure it is to see a film that treats the elderly as more just the sum of their age spots. The funny Italian comedy "Mid-August Lunch" centers on four old women, but never resorts to easy stereotyping to get its laughs. Instead, the characters prove to have lots of life left in them.

Writer-director Gianni Di Gregorio stars as Gianni, a fiftysomething bachelor living in Rome. At first glance, he seems to have the carefree life that's the envy of anyone who ever went to Italy; he seems to spend all his time hanging out on the street, sipping good wine with his friends and marveling at how white the tourists are.

But all is not enviable in paradise. Gianni is chronically unemployed, buys his wine on credit from the local grocer, and still lives with his mother (Valeria De Franciscis), who is in her ‘80s and who needs constant attention.

His rent is also way overdue, but salvation, of a sort, comes from the building's superintendent, who will look the other way on some of that back-owed rent if Gianni will do him one teensy little favor. The super wants to head out of town for the Italian holiday known as Pranzo di Ferragosto, and could Gianni watch after the super's elderly mother overnight while he's away?

In a bind, Gianni agrees, only to find that the super brings his mother and his aunt over. Then his doctor, hearing Gianni is apparently agreeable to taking in guests, asks if HIS mother could come over as well.

It's sort of a sitcom setup, but "Mid-August Lunch" quickly proves to be an understated charmer - think Robert De Niro looking after the cast of the "Golden Girls." But Di Gregorio goes after something a little different.

He gets plenty of chuckles out of Gianni's polite exasperation at dealing with the various demands of the four women; he has to keep the macaroni casserole away from one woman with dietary restrictions, and has to fend off the amorous flirtations of another.

But his irritation gives way to admiration as he spends time with these women, and realizes that just because they're elderly, they haven't lost any of their emotional complexity, or their hunger for life, whether it's sex or food or wine, or just good conversation with new friends. The women are all non-professional actresses (one of them is Di Gregorio's aunt), and their natural, unforced charm pervades the film.

At 75 minutes, "Mid-August Lunch" barely lasts longer than an actual meal. But this modest, slight film is a salute to companionship, and the atmosphere of good cheer it conjures up lingers long after it's over.

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