Big? About medium, and that’s no insult. Fat? Enough. Greek? Italian-Canadian, which is probably close enough for general audiences. There’s a wedding, too, as well as a message of self-acceptance – and the protagonist is a travel agent hungry for more, just like Nia Vardalos’ character in ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” What Mambo Italiano lacks is its spiritual predecessor’s often condescending illusions about the irresistibility of a close-knit, culturally isolated community: The film takes a refreshing, slightly less redemptive view of la famiglia.
Still, Vardalos’ clan didn’t have to deal with their spawn coming out of the closet. So pity poor, gay Angelo (Luke Kirby), approaching 30 and only recently escaped from the domicile of his good-hearted but assiduously joyless parents (Paul Sorvino and Ginette Reno), upstanding immigrant citizens of Montreal’s Little Italy. ”We leave the house only two ways: married or dead,” Angelo informs us, shortly before exercising a third option: cohabitation with childhood friend Nino (Peter Miller), who’s also his secret lover. Problems arise when Angelo wants to drop the facade: Nino’s a cop with a macho image to uphold – and he’s flexibly bisexual enough to make that work. When the families of both men discover the truth, the ensuing blame game elicits some of ”Mambo”’s best laughs, including this ultimatum from Nino’s mother (Mary Walsh): ”You want some cannelloni, you come home. You want some disgusting mortal-sin activity, you stay here.”
”Mambo”’s characters are as loud and outlandish as their wallpaper patterns, and no one feels real enough to care about – nothing sticks to the ribs or the memory. But the filmmakers put their puppets to good use in a subversive bait and switch: This is feel-good filmmaking, to be sure, but the culture clash here is more than a meaningless vehicle for fizzy wish fulfillment. The not-unpleasant result is hearty Italian fare with the half-life of Chinese takeout.