Main cast: Alessandro Gassmann (Diego), Massimo Poggio (Matteo), Maria de Medeiros (Francesca), Michela Cescon (Shary), Thyago Alves (David), and Christo Jivkov (Leonard)
Director: Marco Filiberti
Matteo has always been responsible, having being born poor and what not, and today, he’s a psychiatrist who is doing well for himself. His friend is Diego, who is his complete opposite – Diego still acts like a fratboy, and prefers to work with his father that looks down on him instead of taking a risk and plotting his own career. Matteo is married to Francesca, and they have a five-year old daughter Elena. Diego is married to Shary, who still harbors resentment over the fact that she has to practically raise their son David on his own while her husband continues to behave like an overgrown bumpkin. Meanwhile, Francesca always feels inferior to her husband, as the more educated man often talks down to her and suggests that she’s not smart enough to understand him.
Il compleanno – or David’s Birthday – takes place during one summer when the two couples decide to holiday together, with David joining them after spending three years studying in the US. Leonard. Shary’s brother, also joins them later.
Now, the plot synopsis will suggest that the main focus is the illicit affair between David and Matteo, but this is quite misleading. David has a bigger role than being Matteo’s forbidden lover – his presence also ignites Shary’s long-dormant frustrations about her husband, and Francesca with hers. The whole thing is actually very over the top, so it’s not too surprising that the movie opens with a scene at the opera house; maybe the movie is poking fun at itself, I don’t know, but my goodness. These characters don’t do anything with restraint, it’s all out drama day in and out. Why be angry when you can flail around in a rage instead? Why cry when you can do the whole red eyes and exploding water hydrant act? Maybe it’s just Italians being Italians, but I find these people initially amusing and, eventually, exhausting to follow.
As David, Thyago Alves is treated like a sexier version of the statue itself. The camera pans lovingly over his often near-naked form, although personally I feel that Massimo Poggio is far more easy on the eyes. Sure, Mr Alves is pretty, but he’s pretty in a doll modeled after a boyband singer way. Grown-up men with facial hair – me like more. Sadly, the character isn’t developed any better than the superficial – he’s hot, and he’s also pretty superficial in that he seems to be fooling around with the feelings of Matteo and possibly Leonard. He doesn’t have any clear motives or even a personality; he’s just a surly guy that exists to be the object of one’s lust.
I have no idea why Matteo is mad for him. All signs suggest that he’s been straight all his life, with no desire for men at any given moment, but all of a sudden, I’m supposed to believe that he’s mad for this fellow. Why? How? It is weird, but for a movie that is supposedly after a man chasing after a young man, the most well-drawn characters here are the women: Francesca and Shary. Indeed, it is very easy to feel sorry for them, perhaps because of this – Francesca is stuck with a husband who is admittedly an ass to her most of the time, while Shary is stuck with an unrepentant man-child for a husband. Seriously, poor Francesca – the ass in her life is also chasing after a kid half his age.
Because the theme of Il compleanno is how sometimes small actions can lead to disastrous consequences that one will regret for the rest of their life, poor Francesca ends up being the biggest victim in this whole melodrama.
Having said that, this is a very pretty movie. The scenery is gorgeous, and the set pieces are lovely. Even the ladies’ dresses look nice. It’s just a shame that the core illicit affair is between two poorly drawn character – and in David’s case, barely drawn at all – with ill-explained motivations, and this affair ends up dragging the people around them into the bog as collateral damage. Sure, you can say that a movie doesn’t have to spell everything out to be good, but in the case of this movie, I say it’s more of a case of not spelling anything out well enough in the first place. Viewers have to speculate and guess at the main characters’ motives, not because the people behind the film want them to, but because of a failure in the execution.