(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because as regular readers know, I've been on somewhat of a Michael Winterbottom kick lately (see my recent review, for example, of his sci-fi thriller Code 46), so wanted to make sure to add this to the list as well, a drama about a single dad and his two rapidly growing daughters as they cope with the unexpected car-accident death of his wife and their mother, a family-friendly premise that may seem at first to be a departure for this usually controversial director.
The reality: Well, I gotta say, for all the sexual explicitness of a film like 9 Songs, or the indie hipster cred of 24 Hour Party People, this quiet film about a middle-class American expat family may very well be my favorite Winterbottom movie of all now, of the seven features of his I've now seen. And that's because he uses all the usual tricks in his book here -- the exotic location, the fish-out-of-water characters, the "mumblecore" improvised dialogue, the warm intimacy of his shooting style -- and applies it all to a devastatingly real portrait of a family growing older together, the matriarch's death actually serving more as a MacGuffin for merely watching in general this middle-aged British dad (the always great Colin Firth) interact with his two American daughters (one aged twelve and plagued with weird mystic thoughts about her mother's ghost, the other sixteen and just now blossoming into model-worthy adult beauty for the first time), as the three spend their first summer in the provincial Italian city of the movie's title, battling and loving and grieving and forming new post-death relationships with each other. Now add a whole series of fascinatingly complex side characters, yet another Winterbottom trademark -- including the exquisitely perfect Catherine Keener as Firth's old college pot-smoking buddy, the one who convinced him to accept a teaching job in Genoa to begin with, and who it's hinted had a budding relationship with Firth as an undergraduate until discovering that she was infertile -- and you're left with a movie so real-feeling that I literally came to believe at points that I was watching a documentary, that I was literally there in the room looking over this true-life family's shoulders. That says a lot about Winterbottom, I think, that he can take a premise usually only worthy of a cheesy Lifetime movie and inject it with such pathos, intelligence and real-world eroticism (including not just the teenage daughter's budding sexuality within the Medieval heat of an Italian summer, but Firth's first forays into the world of dating again), and it comes strongly recommended today to all of you, whether or not you're usually a fan of such films.
Worth your time? Absolutely