The Amati Girls
review by Gregory Avery, 16 March 2001
In a working-class
Italian-American household in Philadelphia, the four daughters of
the Amati family assemble to cook and serve dinner to their various
spouses, children, and relatives, after which, over dessert, Aunt
Loretta (Edith Fields) and Aunt Splendora (Lee Grant) launch into
vicious, but pointless, arguments over who's best: Sinatra or Tony
The daughters, however, are
concerned with other matters. Grace (Mercedes Ruehl), who always
seems to be involved in doing several things at once, is the sturdy
one, the touchstone, the one who holds everything and everyone
together, even though her husband (Paul Sorvino) treats her like a
servant. Among the many things occupying Grace's time is complying
with a request from her mother (Cloris Leachman), recently widowed
but on all other accounts still very much alive, to hand-sew the
dress that she wants to buried in, and to accompany her on trips to
pick out a casket that has the right color-coordination.
Christine (Sean Young) has
separated from her husband (Jamey Sheridan), who can never find time
away from his job to attend to the needs of the couple's two
daughters. (There is a hint that he may not be simply busy but
afraid to make a commitment that he would then not be able to follow
through on.) Denise (Dinah Manoff) wants to be a professional singer
although she can't sing, lands a job with a touring company of Fiddler
on the Roof ("Fiddler on the Roof is a
CLASSIC!!" she gushes), and can't decide whether to get married
or not to Lawrence (Mark Harmon), who has the patience of a saint.
Dolores (Lily Knight) suffers under
some sort of unspecified birth defect, the result of when her
mother, during pregnancy, fell while chasing after one of the other
girls. Dolores must now take pills and receive constant supervision.
But, having become an adult, she wants to wear makeup and have a
boyfriend, whom she finds in sweet -- and, while unstated, also
apparently handicapped -- Armand (Danny Spinuzza), who shyly
exchanges glances with her for the first time over bingo cards in
the local church's rec hall. Later, they will go on a date to see Lady
and the Tramp, and pay for their tickets with pocket change.
As written and directed by Anne
DeSalvo, the picture can't take two steps without providing
something that's wise, insightful, and reassuring. In keeping with
the opening statement that "nobody loves you like a
sister", the daughters always seem to have time for each other,
no matter what hour or time of the day. When Christine announces
that she's seeking a divorce ("'For better, for worse'! It
should be a promise, not a sentence!"), Mama Amati replies,
"Try harder!" One character admonishes that, in the face
of adversity, "When your heart's right, the rest follows."
When Dolores expresses doubts about whether she'll ever find a
boyfriend, Grace tells her, "There's a top to every pot."
However, when Dolores does get a guy, she's immediately told that
she can't have one after all: "Not all pots have tops."
(Of course, Dolores then wails, "I want a top!")
The picture moves in the punishing,
pre-programmed manner of the most synthetic T.V. programs, complete
with accompanying music that gets more and more swampier as things
go along. The only thing more offensive than the condescending
attitude towards Dolores (or the unpardonable way in which Cloris
Leachman is photographed, unflatteringly, in most of her scenes) is
the last-minute surprise plot turn that allows the filmmakers to
spend several more minutes dragging us through the mud of bathos.
(After receiving a tiny theatrical release in February, the film is
now being shown on the Fox Family channel, which is probably the
best place for it: it's best taken ten minutes at a time, with
Mark Harmon's appearance -- even
with an unflattering thatch of prematurely-grey hair and, in one
scene, a beret -- reminds one of the pleasantly surprised reaction
one had to his remarkable performance in Nicolas Roeg's 1992 film Cold
Heaven, meaning that he can be a pretty good actor on occasion.
Mercedes Ruehl presents a remarkably confident and fully-realized
portrayal of Grace, especially considering that all her character's
big scenes apparently did not make it into the final cut, if they
were there to begin with.
And it's probably about time that
someone gave Sean Young one more crack at a big leading role in a
motion picture. After spending years almost completely out-of-sight
in the hinterlands of direct-to-video, she has emerged as a
performer with range. Listening to Manoff's character attempting to
sing Kiss of Fire in public, Young gives such a wonderfully
without uttering a word, that it just about primes one for a more
unpredictable, and richer, family drama than the one that emerges.
This film has not
yet been rated.