Reviewed at the 2010 Florida Film Festival
Most features opt for grand statements of suspense to get by, positioning villains, weapons, and natural disasters to keep audiences glued to their seats. The Italian comedy "Mid-August Lunch" favors a more relatable route, communicating the intensity of time alone with four elderly women. A modest slice of life comedy, "Mid-August Lunch" is loaded with charm, embracing the observational opportunities that appear with a mature cast wedged inside a restrictive condo setting.
Having trouble making ends meet while taking care of his elderly mother, Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio) seeks to soothe his mounting medical and legal troubles with a routine of wine and conversation. When an important Italian summer holiday draws near, Gianni is faced with an offer from an influential friend who wants to drop off his own mother and aunt for the extended weekend stay. Reluctantly taking in the new roommates, Gianni misfortunes multiply when his doctor needs the same favor, dropping off his mother with a long list of her medical needs. Stuck inside with four needful women and limited square footage, Gianni sweats to keep them all in check, watching as the ladies form something of a bond while the rest of the community is away.
"Mid-August Lunch" is a low-key comedy that values the fine art of conversation, sitting with Gianni and the ladies as they slowly reveal themselves to anyone who will take the time to listen. It starts with Gianni and his mother, who enjoy a routine of bedtime stories and concern; they share a loving domestic intimacy that's put to the test as other guests crash into the tiny space, brandishing various concerns and quirks.
Taking acting duties along with directing the picture, Gianni Di Gregorio doesn't play "Mid-August Lunch" broadly in the least, settling into the back row to allow the cast an opportunity to work out their own tempos and methods of interaction. The observational approach fits the golden summery Italian mood splendidly, leisurely keeping tabs on all the participants, with battles waged over T.V. time, dietary requirements, and social fatigue. The picture is humorous with a few laugh-out-loud moments of reveal, but "Mid-August Lunch" is best watching matters unfold naturally, capturing the reactions and flurry of five people trying to survive the weekend, only to find something resembling the development of friendship as the wine flows, succulent Italian meals are served up, and time around the kitchen table allows for friendly confession.
At 75 minutes, Di Gregorio recognizes the appropriate lifespan for the story, hitting his points and taking his time without crossing over into laborious plotting. "Mid-August Lunch" is affectionate without any maudlin touches, delightfully acted by the cast, and directed with an unobtrusive hand. The feature won't win any awards for spectacle, but it might surprise most viewers, who'll surely want to pull up a chair and join the conversation.
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