Mambo Italiano is a 2003 comedy-drama/indie film, set in Montreal, Québec, Canada, and directed by Émile Gaudreault. The screenplay was written by Gaudreault and Steve Galluccio, based on Galluccio's theatrical play by the same name. The play/film is based on Galluccio's own life and experiences. Angelo Barberini (Luke Kirby) is the oddball son of Italian immigrants Gino (Paul Sorvino) and Maria (Ginette Reno), who inadvertently ended up in Canada rather than the United States of America. Angelo shocks his parents - and his sister, Anna (Claudia Ferri) - by moving out on his own without getting married, and, shortly after that, shocks them further still when he reveals that he's gay. But his boyfriend (and childhood best friend), policeman Nino Paventi (Peter Miller), isn't as ready to come out of the closet - especially not to his busybody Sicilian mother, Lina (Mary Walsh). Galluccio went on to create the television sitcom Ciao Bella, which explored similar themes of culture clash that are examined in this film and the play it was based upon. Claudia Ferri, who played Angelo's sister Anna in Mambo Italiano, played the lead role in Ciao Bella.
The only thing worse than being simultaneously gay and Italian, it seems, is… well… apparently nothing is worse than being both gay and Italian. Across this thin thread, the story of Mambo Italiano is strung. You see, Angelo is Italian. And gay. And that, if you follow me, is bad.
Still with me? Good. Now you’re fully equipped to grasp the dramatic tension of this comedic enterprise from EdTV writer Émile Gaudreault. If you’re getting the sense that this is a flimsy flick, you’re right on target. This movie falls into the classic trap of reducing the depth and complexity of one culture to its lowest common denominator in an effort to liberate another culture from stereotype.
With all that said, Mambo Italiano is still a funny, charming movie. Most notable among the cast is Paul Sorvino, who lends Mambo all of its Italian credibility as Angelo’s father, Gino. Luke Kirby, affable and animated, plays Angelo with a convincing, amusing vulnerability that makes him interesting from the start. Claudia Ferri, as Angelo’s neurotic sister, Anna, gets a slow start in the script, but shines more brightly than anyone by the film’s end.
Set design plays a major role in Mambo, with ostentatious 1970s shag décor rendering every scene as if it had been cut from an episode of The Brady Bunch. This playful motif lends the entire film a kitschy atmosphere that keeps the comedy rolling through every slapstick scene.
Even as the dialogue reduces most of the characters to simple, flat cartoons, much of the argumentative banter is surprising and funny, playing the tensions of homophobia and family pride off of one another in creative, interesting ways, until finally, gayness and Italian-ness can coexist peacefully.
Shock to the system.