Queerly Ever After #34: MAMBO ITALIANO (2003)

Queerly Ever After is a bi-monthly column where I take a look at LGBT+ films that gave their characters a romantic happily-ever-after. There will be spoilers.

I am going to preface my review of the broad culture-clash comedy Mambo Italiano by saying that I am Jewish and Italian, and yes, dinner with my family is a broad comedy, but, there is a fine line that needs to be toed when creating a broad comedy lest you veer too much into caricature. Mambo Italiano unfortunately, oftentimes falls into that.

At 27-years-old Angelo Barberini (Luke Kirby, who fans may recognize as Lenny Bruce in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), feels stifled by his overbearing Italian immigrant parents. So, much to their chagrin, he moves out of their home in Montreal’s Little Italy neighborhood and gets his own apartment. His parents Gino (Paul Sorvino) and Maria (Ginette Reno) couldn’t be more upset, then again, just about everything makes them upset. When Angelo’s former classmate and friend, Nino (Peter Miller), who is now a cop, moves in with him, his parents’ fears are slightly alleviated, though they still don’t understand why Nino is a better roommate than they are. Well, as it would turn out, Nino, like Angelo, is a closeted gay man, and they are not just roommates, but boyfriends. Though to keep up their charade, they live in a two-bedroom apartment. Before I go any further, I have to say, the “Italian” accents in this movie are all over the place.

Crowded in the Closet

As their relationship continues in secret, Angelo feels more and more desire to come out. Nino, is more than happy to keep up the pretense that they are just roommates. And, aside from Angelo’s sister Anna (Claudia Ferri), who once walked in on them hooking up, no one else knows. The burden of this secret continues to weigh on Angelo, and eventually, he admits to his parents that Nino is his boyfriend and that he is gay. His parents take it about as well as, well… they don’t take it well at all. They start throwing around the blame. Whose fault is this? Blah, blah, blah. We’ve seen this scene a million times before, just imagine it as played out by Loony Tunes characters.

Queerly Ever After #34: MAMBO ITALIANO (2003)
source: Samuel Goldwyn Films

But none of this compares to what happens when they tell Nino’s mother, Lina (Mary Walsh). Lina, comes up with a plan with Gino and Maria. The boys will come over to dinner at the Barberini household, Lina’s hope is that she can convince Nino to fall in love with Angelo’s sister, Anna, and she has invited along a woman named Pina (Sophie Lorain) for Angelo. The only thing about Pina, she and Nino actually met recently in a bar and had sex. All of this comes to a head when Pina announces to everyone that she and Nino “made love” (I definitely vomited in my mouth a little). To be fair, I don’t know if, between Pina and Lina, I can determine who is more a heinous caricature. Nino, terrified of his mother, and what the response will be from everyone else if he actually comes out, leaves Angelo to be with Pina.

Queerly Ever After #34: MAMBO ITALIANO (2003)
source: Samuel Goldwyn Films

It is also during this farce of a dinner that Angelo breaks down and turns on his family, accusing them of being terrible. He goes on a long tirade against them and their small-mindedness. I think, given the way the scene is filmed, I am supposed to feel some sympathy for his family, but from where I’m sitting, his relationship has just been ruined by his parents and his boyfriend’s odious mother, and their bigotry. They are not sympathetic characters. I am not saying Angelo is the greatest character either, he’s one of those gay guys who consistently claims he’s “not like the other gays”, and to be honest, I’m really tired of that stupid trope. Can we stop with queer characters and women characters who are “special” or different than other LGBT/women. When it’s used for female characters it’s the “cool girl” trope, I propose we put to bed once and for all the “cool girl” and “not like other gay guys” trope.

No More Closet

After Angelo is officially out and he and Nino have broken up. Nino continues his sham relationship with Pina, he even marries her and has a child with her, all while he continues carrying on affairs with men. Angelo on the other hand decides to embrace his sexuality, as much as the script and movie will allow him that is. Let’s face it, this is another movie where our gay characters are really quite straight. Angelo and Nino seem more like friends than lovers, and things become even more chaste when Angelo finds new love in the arms of Peter (Tim Post). If I had to watch a sex scene between Nino and Pina (neither of whom are even the leads of this film), then I deserve more than a chaste, chemistry-less peck between Angelo and Peter. I’m not saying that this movie needed to be raunchy, just that I actually need to believe the romance between these supposedly gay men. Also, less of Pina would have been very nice.

In Conclusion: Mambo Italiano

Mambo Italiano is a comedy so broad it doesn’t know what to do with itself. With an entire cast of characters who are not the most likable, and romances that are far from believable, this movie leaves much to be desired.

Mambo Italiano came out in the USA on September 19, 2003 and October 1, 2004 in the UK. For all other release dates, see here.

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