By Dominic Corr
One man – three (and more) women – coming from one female and one male writers, the hope for a lampooning of an archaic romantic-comedy trope is possible. Regrettably, this isn’t the case. “American Fango” (2017) sees a young Italian man, besotted over a visiting American, follow her back in a bid to win her heart. As he begins to soak in the culture, his passion for acting, life and yes, women, take over as he finds a new life in America. Rapidly, we see a mess of ideas, storylines and icy performances litter what was potentially a romantic recapturing of Europe’s love for New York City.
In the process of seeking love, Francesco encounters crooks, lovers and, at one point, a better movie. He meets old friends, new lovers, stereotypes and stretches a ninety-minute film into two hours. Finding employment in a restaurant, who happens to be run by an old acting acquaintance, Francesco struggles as a waiter, making friends and striking a sexual relationship with the manager’s daughter.
This should have been the film, Francesco’s ‘American Dream’ realization was not to find the woman but to work at his dream, make friends and forge a life. There’s a rich authenticity from producers who have worked this circuit, been an extra, been a runner and know the difficulties of filmmaking. Never really feeling like it sits at the forefront, a lot of this is in the pacing, it’s compact and plays second fiddle to tangents about characters we neither care nor recognize.
A key issue with Gabriele Altobelli & Brittany McComas’ writing centers around Francesco, their Italian heart-throb lead. In a safe, polite way – the character is wholly unlikeable, even with Brando Bonvier giving it his all to remain charismatic.
“American Fango” is a love affair with New York – rekindling a historical passion, which seems to have fallen out of favour, resigning itself to reverence in a post-9/11 cinematic world.”
Worrying, a number of these characters are difficult to watch. Their motives for malicious actions come out of nowhere, a two-dimensional thought process behind them. The flirting ‘cougars’ looking for nothing other than a handsome Italian snack in Francesco, or Laura (Lacie Marie Meyer), who threatens his employment once she cheats on him. Rather than manipulate actual tension, Altobelli and McComa instead place oppositions in Francesco’s way – making for a character who never adapts, changes or works for his eventual ending.
Quite often, his tactic of flirtation revolves around the different thematic of the movie – food. Our adoration with food is quickly becoming a forefront narrative tool for cinema; “Chef” (2014), “Julie & Julia” (2009) or “The Hundred-Foot Journey” (2014). Visually, this works with cramped conditions of the small restaurant, smart cinematography around dining, but that’s as far as we get.
Far less a story about romantic desire, “American Fango” is a love affair with New York – rekindling a historical passion, which seems to have fallen out of favour, resigning itself to reverence in a post-9/11 cinematic world. With his feature debut, Altobelli’s film sees the city in a light familiar with the works of Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail” (1998). It rejuvenates a historical fascination of America from Europeans and a desire for the ‘old’ from Americans.
“American Fango” has redemption as a debut piece, which in itself is a triumph for an emerging female writer to reach an audience.”
There’s a sense that a variety of locales are not for narrative perspective, but rather a way to showcase the city. Admirable, it makes for pleasant visuals, playing with light and shadow, but has a hollow atmosphere. We’re in venues which should hold vast numbers instead of a few crew members awkwardly shuffling in parties.
In Italian, Fango is the word for mud, or a dessert consisting of chocolate gelato. In the namesake, there is a muddying of the script, with performances consisting of the emotional range of damp earth. It’s a shame, lurking beneath is a tribute, not only to American rom coms of the ’80s and early ’90s but a cinematic style of the old Italian directors. Or at least an attempt at by the visual crew and musical composition.
‘American Fango’ has redemption as a debut piece, which in itself is a triumph for an emerging female writer to reach an audience. Sadly, that doesn’t garner a pass when a film feels uneven, perplexing and at times, even dislikeable.