Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Asia Argento’s Misunderstood
horror show of family is brought to you by the daughter of a legend of horror
cinema. Asia Argento’s father Dario is probably the best known master of the
Giallo genre. Young Aria (Asia Argento’s legally registered name at the time of
her birth) is the daughter of a romantic leading man actor and a musician, but
it is hard not to draw parallels. Both even have famous composer grandfathers. However,
one can only hope Aria’s life is entirely fictional, because it is the sort of
chaotic mess that could generate a lifetime’s worth of baggage. Growing up is
darned near impossible for the protagonist Argento’s Misunderstood (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
is the one common child shared her recently divorced parents, but she has a
step-sister with each of the exes. Her relationships with all four are rather
complicated, because it is clear she is the favorite of neither parent. Aria
primarily lives with her mother and the rather dreary Donatina, until the temperamental
Swiss pianist loses patience with her daughter and packs her off unannounced to
her father. According to the regular pattern, the shallow, self-absorbed actor will
let her stay with him and the noxiously manipulative Lucrezia for a few days,
before sending her back.
days at a time, Aria will ping pong back and forth. Some nights she will even
sleep on the street. However, these might be the happiest interludes in the
film, because she falls in with a free-spirited group of Bohemians colonizing
the local park. She probably should have stayed with them, but like everyone
else in the film, Aria is keenly aware of social standing. Her parents might be
a train wreck, but they give her serious cred at school. Yet, it is never
enough to turn the head of the thuggish kid she crushes on.
Argento had cranked up the family’s horribleness just a fraction further, Misunderstood could have veered into
campy horror. Instead, she keeps the tone grounded and the lunacy relatively
restrained. As a result, Aria’s life is just plain emotionally harrowing. She
is the ultimate poor little rich kid, whose dysfunctional parents are total
monsters precisely because they are so human. They really could exist.
Gainsbourg and Italian television star Gabriel Garko are so pitch-perfect as
the narcissistic parents, it is truly frightening. Yet, the true revelation is Giulia
Salerno as Aria. She covers an unusually wide range as the smart but impetuous
nine year-old, dealing with just about every form of family angst under the
sun. Yet, she always keeps it grounded and real, even when everyone else around
her is going bat-scat crazy. She is remarkable, as is Alice Pea as Angelica,
her inevitably estranged best friend forever.
is an absolutely exhausting film, but it is not
without dark humor. However, most of the laughs come from a recognition of how Argento
keeps relentlessly one-upping the outrageous behavior, without ever taking
things over the top. It might just feature the best performance from a young
screen thesp since Josie Xu’s star-making turn in Starry, Starry Night. Recommended for those who appreciate extreme
family dramas, Misunderstood opens
this Friday (9/25) in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Asia Argento, Italian Cinema