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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

LAFF 2009 Review: Mid-August Lunch

The delightful little Italian film Mid-August Lunch is exactly the sort of foreign film you might imagine an American studio eyeing for a remake with an amusingly befuddled Albert Brooks in the lead role. The film centers around Gianni, a middle-aged man with no job and seemingly little ambition, who lives with his elderly mother.
Gianni and his mother are in trouble with the fellow residents of their condominium complex over a pile of unpaid dues and shares of upkeep work, so when the building administrator offers to take care of some of their debt in exchange for Gianni caring for the administrator’s elderly mother for a few days while he goes on vacation, Gianni reluctantly agrees to have his endless days of sitting around doing nothing imposed upon. Before Gianni knows what’s happened, his apartment is full of little old ladies and his quiet life of relative leisure turned upside down by the demands of caring for them and mediating their quarrels.

This is a simple, charming film that relies on human emotion and interaction rather than slapstick comedy, and it generates more smiles and chuckles than belly laughs, but Gianni and his elderly charges are funny and human, and the way the film deals with aging, and the respect and care afforded elders by their children is enough to give pause to audiences in America, where we keep our lives so perpetually busy that there’s little room in them for us to do anything with our own aging parents but tuck them away into “retirement” homes. When Gianni’s landlord guilts him into accepting the deal by asking him indignantly, “What would I do, leave my mother by herself while I go on holiday?” it feels very true to that culture in a way that’s almost completely foreign in our own.
The trouble with an American remake is that it would almost certainly put all the focus on broadly comedic moments derived from how put-out Gianni is by caring for his own mother to begin with, much less all these old ladies he finds thrust open him. Where in Mid-August Lunch Gianni handles it all with mildly exasperated humor and bottomless patience, the same film targeted at American audiences would be more inclined to showing the guy with steam coming out his ears while he fumes and rages and plots to throw all these old mammas from the train.
How lovely it would be if more American films would deal with aging mothers, middle-aged children and the burdens and joys of caring for our mothers in their old age as they cared for us in our youth with the grace and charm of Mid-August Lunch.

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