With his mother, Rosaria (Valeria Golino), having recently sunk into depression and with his father, Antonio (Luca Zingaretti), rarely home (and cheating on his mother with one of his colleagues – the source of her anxiety), Peppino finds himself being shared amongst his oddball relatives – his mother’s siblings; his hot, swinging hipster aunt, Titina (Christina Capotondi), her party-animal brother, Salvatore (Libero de Rienzo) and intellectual brother, Federico (Gennaro Cuomo), amongst others.
His cousin Gennaro (Vincenzo Nemolato) wears a cape and believes he is Superman. After he is hit by a bus and killed, he returns in spirit to guide Peppino, encouraging him to embrace his own individuality and not to worry about bullies at school, and learn to trust his family.
Ivan Cotoroneo (writer of I Am Love) adapts for the screen from his own novel and makes his directorial debut. While his direction of individual sequences shows further promise, the film’s structure is wayward and feels like it is made up of a web of strands. Sub-characters that feel superfluous and add little to the story’s central focus sluggishly weigh it down.
Ultimately it tells the parallel tales of Peppino and Rosaria, but everyone else feels underdeveloped, and their stories never reach engaging heights. The performances are all commendable, but Gollino (warm and motherly, yet convincingly emotionally conflicted) and Capotondi (amusing, and a genuinely illuminating presence) stand out. The best sequences in the film are shared by Peppino and Gennaro, cleverly written and funny, and Rosaria and the shrink she is sent to, Dr. Matarrese (Fabrizio Gifuni). The latter are emotionally dense and of a more serious tone than the rest of the film.
The suburban dwellings that haven’t conformed to the psychedelic changes feel somewhat drab and claustrophobic, while others (notably Titina and Salvatore’s place) are adorned with eye-popping colours. This pleasant suburban dramedy offers up nostalgia for those with homegrown knowledge and situates those unacquainted in a period of significant social change in Italy. We are taken into the lives of this colourful Neopolitan family in the midst of dysfunction and though there are some laughs – Poppino and his father bonding over a trio of baby chicks bought as a gift – we know it will turn out okay and don’t come out further enlightened.
While the threads are a messy collaboration and unevenly effective, the location and the period is lusciously visualized by Luca Bigazzi, and the details (gaudy costumes, and swinging LSD-riddled love-ins with burning bra demonstrations) vibrantly heighten the atmosphere. As I mentioned it is well performed and features some catchy Italian covers of pop songs like “These Boots Are Made For Walking”. There's enough to leave an audience with a smile on their face, anyway.