C'mon-a My House, My House-a Come On
Director Yen Tan also co-wrote Ciao with Alessandro Calza, the Genovese Web designer who plays the film’s Andrea and, over a five-year email correspondence between the two, is himself the germ of the story. Gender aside, the eighty-seven minutes might not be out of place as a bare-bones old-fashioned love story. Visually opening with the keyboarded international salutation ciao, the movie is reminiscent of Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, although it changes the heterosexual romance for the homosexual and infuses grief as a starting point.
Some gay and lesbian festival prizes would indicate that the effort touched a chord. Although not sexually graphic, it will probably not swim, however, with any larger public. This is not because Holiday theater tastes run counter, nor even that, another male substituted for the female, the plotline is trite. Rather, it’s the filmmaking itself that drags. Described as “lucid and minimalist,” the failure of realization is only partly the result of a budget restricted enough that cast and crew double or triple up in multiple functions. There is nothing inherently wrong about wearing multiple hats, but the long pauses for negative space after actors depart or before they enter, the extended self-conscious back shots framed by windows, the repeated sleepless faces staring from pillows, are dead wood.
When Jeff (Adam Neal Smith) brings their son’s effects to Mark’s (Charles W. Blaum) parents’ (John S. Boles and Margaret Lake, as Larry and Margaret) after the fatal pre-story road accident, he’s invited in. But the light meal is excruciatingly silent, understandably so -- and, unfortunately, much of the rest is the same.
It is arguably appropriate and “today” that opening exposition is typed onto a monitor screen, for Andrea and Mark have never connected face to face, only electronically and telephonically. Combining his visit with attendance at a New York wedding, the Italian has continuing tickets on to Texas. Jeff is clearing up his friend’s affairs, including reading and replying to selected emails, and it’s his sad duty to inform the traveler he may as well get a refund, as death has canceled the meeting.
Andrea makes the trip, scheduled for only two days anyway because an earlier week-long one to Des Moines had been too optimistic by five days. He stays at Jeff’s, which seems homey because of Mark’s correspondence and a video of him singing in the bedroom. A mangled idiom or two tossed in to show exotic foreignness, Andrea’s English is near fluent in this land of “Texbonics,” and his knowledge of America puts to shame the ignorance about Europe of Jeff’s Chinese-American stepsister Lauren (Ethel Lung), who stops by on a pretext to check out Andrea for herself and elicit a few background details for us.
The two strangers related through the mutual friend tool around town in Jeff’s grey car which is red in the opening scene, to the linedance Round-Up Saloon and the memorial park gravesite, and ride Mark’s red scooter and play his video games. Mostly, with long silences they talk at home about recipes, work, moments with Mark, and coming out -- Jeff a week after college roommate Mark, though the two were not lovers; Andrea later in life, after six years with a girlfriend and even a marriage of convenience.
The only doubt is when the two will fall into another’s arms. There are romantic comedies . . . and there are romantic comedies. The difference is in the handling. A saving possibility might have arisen from the remark that fastidious Mark left a pile of dirty laundry and sent regards to Jeff’s mother, as if he had a premonition. But a moment’s wondering about paranormal prescience is not followed up, nor its implication that he in effect orchestrated the present meeting.
Having learned to drive the scooter during the brief visit, Jeff rides it and, in a less literal movie, would have become something like Mark after the departing Italian suggested a spring visit to him in Genoa, “not as pretty as Dallas” but with its attractions.
(Released by Regent Releasing and rated “R” for language, including sexual references.)