Sigh... I wish I were spending my summer wandering through Italy. Sure, my staycation was nice, but I feel like I need to go somewhere, have some new experiences, and see something I haven't seen before. For now, it's simply not in the cards, but I can have the next best thing -- a new Colin Firth movie, in which I get to live vicariously through one of my favorite actors as he spends the summer abroad, recovering from the death of his wife. I don't envy him the loss of a loved one in the slightest, but the idea of a European escape is particularly tempting at the moment. As a result, I eagerly made plans with Lauren to catch a screening of Summer in Genoa this evening at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
As predicted, the film acutely activated my sense of wanderlust. Genoa looked by turns sun-baked and mysterious as Firth's cinematic offspring explored the city's back alleys, and the family spent idyllic afternoons at the beach. I am not a beach-person in the slightest, but this film even had me longing for some sand and surf.
I was, however, vexed by the scenes shot in my hometown of Chicago, from which the characters hail prior to taking their European sabbatical. For reasons of cinematography, no doubt, the film shows the family taking a taxi to O'Hare via Lake Shore Drive. Sure, you get an expansive and breathtaking view of the city that way, but no one in their right mind would take LSD to the airport -- the road doesn't go anywhere near it! These sort of inaccuracies always drive me crazy; the scene in Risky Business in which Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay have sex on what is ostensibly the El while downtown Highland Park is clearly visible through the window is another classic Chicago blooper that bugs the crap out of me. The El only runs as far north as Evanston; they clearly shot the scene on the Metra tracks! It may seem petty, but these exercises in cinematic license are so distracting that they seriously impede my enjoyment of movies shot in Chicago, even though it generally pleases me to see my beloved city captured on film.
My distraction aside, I thought the film did an excellent job of exploring its subject matter, namely how people deal with grief. Firth's youngest child retreats into her own imagination, conjuring visions of her deceased mother to keep her company and give her comfort. Her teenage sister acts out, sleeping with a handful of older Italian suitors, dabbling in drugs, and engaging in a number of other risky behaviors. I actually felt that Firth was somewhat under-utilized in the film, especially following his heart-rending portrayal of grief in A Single Man. Firth's genius may be in his subtlety and ability to convey emotions without the use of words, but in this film, I found myself constantly wondering about his feelings towards his dead wife, and where he was headed in his attempts to heal. I'm inclined to think that his lackluster performance has more to do with poor writing and character development than bad acting, although it is also conceivable that the lack of access to his character's emotions could just be another form of grief that the filmmaker is exploring.
Indeed, it is the film's realism that is perhaps it's most frustrating quality. It ends abruptly, without closure. The youngest child could still use some serious therapy for her guilt regarding her mother's death and the accompanying delusional state she has constructed for herself. The older child experiences no repercussions for her reckless behavior, and receives no comeuppance for her selfishness. Firth is left to keep muddling on, trying to hold his family together. This may be how people cope with trauma in real life, but as a movie, it is not particularly satisfying. It's easy to see why Summer in Genoa is going to remain an independent film, running in limited release. It is not something the average film-goer would care to take the time to appreciate, and it certainly isn't your standard summer-movie fare. I enjoyed it, but I would be judicious about recommending it, even to fellow Colin Firth fans.