In the tradition of ethnic-themed movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding comes Everybody Wants to Be Italian. And it's a charmer—a sweet, flavorful romantic comedy with one of the year's freshest and most appealing casts. This is one of those films where everyone is a virtual unknown or discovery. Novice director Jason Todd Ipson has put together a group of performers who seem comfortable with one another and are hugely charismatic on screen. You get the feeling you're watching a group of actors who are going on to great things after this modestly entertaining confection.
The plot is simple: Jake (Jay Jablonski) is an unlucky-in-love Boston fishmonger who can't get over his breakup with Isabella (Marisa Petroro) even though she left him eight years ago and is now married with three children. His co-workers Steve (John Kapelos) and Gianluca (John Enos III) fix him up with beautiful veterinarian Marisa (Cerina Vincent) at a party for single Italians. The only catch is Jake is Polish. Instantly switching his identity, he passes himself off as an Italian lad, which works for a while as romance blooms with Marisa, but then his ex decides she isn't over him either. This causes great conflict as Marisa takes off for—where else?—Italy, and Jake must decide what he wants his future to be about.
Clearly this is familiar stuff; the key to a comedy like Everybody Wants to Be Italian is in the casting. Like Mystic Pizza and Greek Wedding, you need characters the audience will become invested in, and that's exactly what happens here. Jablonski will get female hearts fluttering, and their male counterparts will be able to relate to this regular guy with severe women problems. As Jake, he suffers from extreme romantic confusion so convincingly we have to wonder how he stays in any relationship. Jablonski has movie-star ingredients and looks like someone who, with the right career choices, could become a major player. Petroro and Vincent are enormously attractive romantic partners for Jake and never go over the top in their portrayals of regular neighborhood girls who fell, at different moments in their lives, for the same hopeless guy. Kapelos and Enos ably fulfill the standard buddy roles, while veteran actor Richard Libertini wins our hearts with what could be the stereotypical role of Aldo "Papa" Tempesti. Penny Marshall as the understanding florist Teresa has brief moments, but the part is so small she is hard-pressed to make much of an impression. Dan Cortese is appropriately unlikable as Marisa's current flame. A slew of Italian supporting players add to the authenticity of the enterprise.
Everybody Wants to Be Italian doesn't break any new ground, nor is it the kind of movie that will even generate much discussion afterward, but with a first-rate cast of newcomers and a pleasant atmosphere surrounding them, this is a very agreeable way to kill a couple of hours. If that's not amore, it's close enough.
Reviewed by Pete Hammond