From rom-com cliches to contrived circumstances, Italian comedy Stay Away From Me does little with its concept or content.
'According to a rough calculation, at this precise moment in Rome 15,766 couples are arguing,' states the opening narration of Stay Away From Me (Stai lontana di me), the latest romantic comedy in a seemingly never-ending procession predicated on the age-old battle of the sexes. The film starts by surveying examples of petty squabbles on the city streets, spanning scuffles over coffee, parking and conflicting schedules. Then, the source of such damning amorous observations and the self-appointed saviour of relationships everywhere earns an introduction: Jacopo (Enrico Brignano, Ci vediamo domani), a marriage counsellor with twenty years’ experience.
Jacopo’s professional prowess is further established when he marches into a wedding in disarray, assuaging a bride distressed about her groom uttering another woman’s name in their vows. The ceremony must go on, and it does, followed by a reception where Jacopo spies architect Sara (Ambra Angiolini, Viva l'Italia); however his success in the affairs of others doesn’t translate to instances of his own. Since childhood, Jacopo has considered himself cursed with bad luck with the opposite sex, now courting love only on the behalf of his clients. Of course, his path keeps crossing with Sara, sparks flying as she seeks escape from her workaholic boyfriend in his arms, but Jacopo’s life-long misfortune appears destined to mar their merriment.
From the rom-com cliché that forms its basis, to the contrived circumstances it offers as supposedly amusing evidence, Stay Away From Me does little with its concept or content. That those charged with ensuring the romantic happiness of others are often utterly hapless in matters of the heart themselves is an average aspect of the enduring genre and treated as such, as is the trope of the bumbling protagonist whose chaotic influence spirals through the lives of those around them. The requisite slapstick silliness that results is as routine as expected, depicting a cycle of injuries and awkwardness. The film’s status as a remake of 2011 French-Belgian effort La chance de ma vie helps explain much of its derivation, both efforts comfortable with their adherence to formula.
Within such well-worn confines, what Stay Away From Me does boast is enthusiasm and a brisk running time. Writer/director Alessio Maria Federici (Chocolate Kisses) treads its familiar territory with energy and efficiency that sees an array of onslaughts assault the film’s troubled paramours in a frenetic fashion. Such upbeat direction can’t completely eschew an average script, as coined by Federici and co-scribes Edoardo Maria Falcone (Us in the U.S.) and Davide Lantieri (L'intrepido), but it does offer ample distractions. Laughs may be intermittent at best; however just as one seen-before sketch unravels, another incident bustles in to view, as enacted with verve and shot with vibrancy.
The standard yet spritely approach also extends to the performances, with Brignano and Angiolini nothing if not animated and eager. There is little nuance to their roles, though they are afforded a number of nice moments that help sell their pairing amidst the absurdity. Neither does more than adhere to type with overt gusto, which is exactly what is asked of them; indeed, the feature shares the same fortune. Stay Away From Me can’t break free from the shackles of its set-up or genre, nor does it want to, offering a middling attempt at the middle-of-the-road romantic comedy conceit.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 stars
Stay Away From Me (Stai lontana di me)
Director: Alessio Maria Federici
Italy, 2013, 82 mins
Italian Film Festival 2014
Melbourne: 17 September – 12 October
Sydney: 18 September – 12 October
Canberra: 23 September – 15 October
Perth: 24 September – 15 October
Brisbane: 1 – 22 October
Adelaide: 2 – 22 October
Byron Bay: 9 – 15 October
Hobart: 16 – 22 October
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level