Friday January 19, 2001
Anne DeSalvo's "The Amati Girls" is a sentimental, straightforward domestic drama centering on four adult sisters in an Italian American family in Philadelphia. In her feature debut, veteran actress DeSalvo draws from her own family but doesn't give her people much individuality--she doesn't make the most of a large and substantial ensemble cast.
There is an implicit undertow to DeSalvo's family saga that she doesn't connect with in a way that would allow her film to evoke a sense of irony and distinction. "The Amati Girls" has plenty of warmth, affection and conventional wisdom, but too much of the time it plays out in routine fashion with moments of contrivance.
"The Amati Girls," which has little style or pace, could have benefited from a more thought-out and rigorous script before going into production. The film is further hampered by having been too obviously filmed primarily in Los Angeles, presumably for budgetary reasons. (But why, for the film's key setting, choose so distinctively Californian a home as a vintage Craftsman residence?)
Mercedes Ruehl stars as the oldest sister, Grace, a traditional wife who pampers her husband, Joe (Paul Sorvino), into a state of obtuseness; they have three children who make demands upon her rather than their father. Christine (Sean Young) is about to throw in the towel on her 14-year-marriage to Paul (Jamey Sheridan), because he's become such a workaholic that she and their daughters rarely see him.
Wary of marriage on account of the experiences of her sisters and their recently widowed mother, Dolly (Cloris Leachman), Denise (Dinah Manoff) has frittered away her life in futile artistic endeavors for which she has no talent. In the meantime she has recently reconnected with an old boyfriend, Lawrence (Mark Harmon), who would like her to settle down with him in marriage while she envisions touring the country in a "Fiddler on the Roof" revival. (The way in which she mangles a song in a stint in a neighborhood nightclub assures us that she hasn't a prayer of singing professionally.)
Dolly and her three older daughters are overly protective of the youngest Amati girl, Dolores (Lily Knight), whose mild retardation is attributed to a fall Dolly experienced while pregnant with her. Religion plays a strong role in the lives of the Amati girls and their mother, and Dolores has begun to pray for a boyfriend, much to her family's consternation. The bonds between the sisters and their mother are strong, sustaining well the usual strains that crop up between loved ones.
Dolly herself has two sisters, Splendora (Lee Grant), who is independent-thinking and glamorous, and Loretta (Edith Fields), whose long marriage to Frankie (Joe Greco) is envied by one and all. Much of the film turns upon an upcoming dance recital that Paul says he is too busy too attend, which leaves his daughter Carla (lovely and poised Cassie Cole) keenly disappointed yet hardly surprised; DeSalvo is on solid ground when she makes clear just how important such events can become in sustaining a healthy family life.
"The Amati Girls" had the chance to be more than it is. You sense that DeSalvo did not intend to leave us with overly familiar themes--that being an overly dutiful spouse can be a form of suicide and that the removal of the linchpin figure in an extended family can have a profoundly liberating effect on its members. Yet these are the messages DeSalvo is sending whether she means to or not.
The Amati Girls, 2001. PG, for mild language and brief sensuality. A Providence Entertainment & Tricor Entertainment presentation of a Fox Family-Triple Axle & Heritage Film Group production. Writer-director Anne DeSalvo. Producers James Alex & Steven C. Johnson. Executive producers Howard Kazanjian & Craig C. Darian. Cinematographer Frank Byers. Editors C. Timothy O'Meara, David L. Bertman. Music Conrad Pope. Costumes Amy Stofsky. Production designer Jane Stewart. Art director Renee Davenport. Set decorator Katie Sanner. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. Mercedes Ruehl as Grace. Paul Sorvino as Joe. Cloris Leachman as Dolly. Lee Grant as Splendora. Mark Harmon as Lawrence.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times