4 Single Fathers (2009)
Director: Paolo Monaco
Cast: Alessandro Gassman, Jeanine Bartel, Joe Urla
Synopsis: A comedy/drama about four Italian single fathers trying to cope with American ex-wives, children, family, and new relationships, set in New York and Rome.
With no clear target audience, 4 Single Fathers is the kind of movie the majors wouldn’t go anywhere near. It doesn’t really qualify as a woman’s movie because, as the title suggests, the protagonists are four males, and it isn’t the kind of movie to appeal to men because it focuses on emotions and relationships rather than things that go kaboom. So the fact it even got made in the first place is something of a triumph, even though almost nobody appears to have seen it. Which is a shame, because 4 Single Fathers is an entirely likeable film, which sadly goes nowhere and says nothing.
The four men are all Italian-Americans around that dangerous forty-year-old mark (when most men’s thought turn to finally growing up) who experience life-changing episodes revolving around their relationships with women. Jacopo (Alessandro Gassman), is a shameless lothario, seducing every female client who finds her way to his orthodontist practice, it seems, while also diddling the receptionist during quiet spells. He’s tall, charismatic and good-looking in a weathered, Benicio Del Toro sort of way, and is, on the surface, as shallow as it is possible for a human being to be. He has a broken marriage and a little daughter who adores him but to whom, we later learn he has been a neglectful father. Ennio (Joe Urla), is a happily married business man — or so he believes until, out of the blue, his wife tells him she doesn’t think she loves him anymore. Dom (Francesco Quinn), is regretting leaving his wife for another woman, especially as that relationship has now ended and his wife has found a new lover and isn’t interested in taking him back, something which he finds difficult to accept. Finally, we have George (Lenny Venito), a New York cop of Italian heritage who nevertheless doesn’t speak the language — which puts him at a distinct disadvantage whenever his shrewish wife reverts to her native tongue to insult him. Feeling fat and unloved, George is buoyed by the unexpected advances of a lesbian colleague. Filled with renewed confidence and self-belief, he leaves his wife only to discover that his colleague’s come-on was a well-meaning prank at the behest of his partner.
Over the course of the movie, the four men slowly become friends. Jacopo advises Ennio to tell his wife he wants a divorce in order to bring her back to her senses, which is the kind of crackpot plan that would only be seriously considered in a movie; Dom’s mother suffers a heart attack which prompts him to reassess his life and its priorities; Jacopo finds himself finally falling for a woman who might possibly be as emotionally shallow as himself, while a deflated George quickly comes to regret his rash decision to tell his wife she smells of mouldy cheese. While all these scenarios are plausible, they all seem to be liberally sprinkled with cinematic fairy dust, so that we observe but rarely feel the protagonist’s emotions. 4 Single Fathers’ blend of drama and comedy is an uneasy one, although the humour is of such a gentle nature that it barely qualifies as such. The film does at least avoid convention by having only one of the three men’s stories possibly ending happily, but to be honest, their stories don’t end when the film does, and we only feel as if we’re really beginning to know them when the credits roll. You get the feeling that each of them will keep on making the same mistakes they’ve made throughout the picture, having learnt nothing from their experiences.
On the plus side, all four actors give amiable performances, with Lenny Venito perhaps just edging it as a character whose situation is perhaps the most realistic of the four. The women all come across in an unsympathetic light, with Maria (Mary Testa) in particular being particularly dislikeable. George is well out of that one, if you ask me…