Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Friends and Romans, Lend Me Your Type Casting
great Charlton Heston played Mark Antony twice, in little seen film
adaptations of Julius Caesar produced
twenty years apart. That is all well and good, but Nick DeMaio is more
interested in the 1953 Joe Mankiewicz version starring Marlon Brando. Not
surprisingly, Brando is an icon for the blue collar Italian American actor, who
specializes in extra work on mafia movies. DeMaio is determined to produce and
star in a staging of Julius Caesar to
broaden his acting horizons. However, along with his gangster extra cronies, he
will unknowingly cast a real life Mafia boss and an undercover Fed in his very
Complications will ensue, as they do, in Christopher Kublan’s Friends and Romans (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in Jersey and Long Island.
was in Godfather III, Goodfellas, and
The Sopranos, but he only had one
slightly embarrassing speaking part. Nevertheless, the movie extra work has
nicely supplemented his income as a wholesale produce deliveryman. Still, the broad
ethnic stock characters are starting to big him. He would like to be taken
seriously as an actor, so he latches onto Shakespeare’s Caesar as the vehicle to make it happen.
luck would have it, he rents the abandoned theater where real life mobster and
aspiring actor Joey “Bananas” Bongano is hiding out. Even though he is wanted
for murdering a Broadway producer (seriously, that is probably just a
misdemeanor), he can’t stop himself from auditioning for DeMaio. FBI agent “Paulie”
Goldberg also successfully auditions, suspecting DeMaio and his cronies are
involved with the secretive Bongano, whose features and thespian pseudonym
remain unknown to the Feds.
FAR is a bit sitcom-ish, but it is
immensely likable. Kublan and co-screenwriters Michael Rispoli and Gregg
Greenberg also incorporate a number of clever references to Shakespeare’s
original text. Frankly, it is a much smarter film than one might expect, even
though there are no shortage of jokes derived from Italian stereotypes.
DeMaio, Rispoli balances goofiness and earnestness rather well, never
overindulging in either. We just so get exactly who he is supposed to be, but
he still wears well over the course of time, like a broken-in pair of shoes.
Annabella Sciorra is grossly underemployed as Angela DeMaio, but at least she
develops some pleasant chemistry with Rispoli. It is also nice to see her
character support her husband’s eccentric ambitions right from the start,
rather than merely serve as an emasculating dream-deflator.
by necessity, most of the gangster-looking supporting cast is serving up shtick
of some kind, but Paul Ben-Victor’s shtick is funnier and flashier than the
rest as Dennis Socio, DeMaio’s limo driving buddy, who agreed to direct because
he once did a limited run of Tony &
Tina’s Wedding on the Island.
is not exactly getting over-distributed this
weekend, but it is destined to become a word of mouth sleeper hit on DVD and
VOD. It gently spoofs gangster movie conventions, before tying everything up in
a big “feel good” bow. You can be snarky all you want, but it works at the
audience level. Recommended for fans of backstage comedies, the entertaining,
low stress Friends and Romans opens
this Friday (11/6) in the Tri-State Area.