Love's Brother (2004) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: Not rated yet, but probably PG for some sensuality
Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Garcia, Amelia Warner, Silvia de Santis, David Suchet, Barry Otto, Eleanor Bron, John Bluthal   
Director: Jan Sardi

Screenplay: Jan Sardi
Review published February 3, 2004

Love's Brother marks the solid directorial debut of longtime screenwriter, Jan Sardi, who appears to have learned a great deal about crafting a film while working closely alongside some very competent filmmakers over the years.  His last screenplay, Shine, was a smash hit, garnering several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay.  It's been eight long years since we've heard from him, but apparently they were well-spent. Sardi deftly hones his modest story into a very polished screenplay, and even better, has the vision to direct it himself in perfectly executed fashion.  Comparable in tone to the great Italian-based romance films like Moonstruck, Cinema Paradiso, and Il Postino, Love's Brother isn't going to wow you with something new, but rather, give you a taste of old-fashioned entertainment to win you over with charm and whimsical flair.

Set in Australia during the 1950s, Giovanni Ribisi (Heaven, Boiler Room) plays Angelo, part of a family of Italian immigrants, personally unlucky in love with the local women.  He has been sending letters to available women in Italy who are seeking husbands, but has always come up empty-handed in the love department.  Just when he is about to give up on love altogether, his local matchmaker has a real beauty in her files, Rosetta (Warner, Winter Passing).  He has one shot to make a real case for himself in a letter and ask for her hand in marriage, and in a sudden moment of despair, Angelo includes a picture of his handsome brother, Gino (Garcia, Coyote Ugly), and passes it off as himself.  With such a lovely letter accompanied with a handsome photograph, Rosetta concedes to marry Angelo, traveling thousands of miles only to find that the Angelo she has spent many days and night dreaming about is not the one in her mind's eye.  Making matters worse, Rosetta now becomes infatuated with Gino, her representative of the "Angelo" she was to marry, causing a love triangle that threatens to pull the tight-knit siblings apart.

Although at its heart, Love's Brother is a very conventional romantic comedy, not particularly difficult to discern the outcome to before the events actually transpire on-screen, the real enjoyment comes through the manner in which it travels, not the destination.  Sardi invests a great deal in his characters and his ability to spin his tale, and in many ways, the film itself is an homage storytelling.  Rosetta falls in love with Angelo, not through getting to know him, but by writing herself a bit of fiction as to how they met, romanticizing the events that led up to their love, transcribing them into a scrapbook she keeps near to her heart.  At the same time, a traveling artist, a sort of representation of Sardi himself (played by artist Reg Mombassa),  is drawing a mural for the immigrants showing their native Italy, their travels, and what they have left behind.  At the the same time, the real Sardi is telling both stories in "real-time" -- a tale of two brothers who have had nothing but each other to rely upon, while also relating their quest for a woman to share the rest of their lives with.

As we get to know the characters, we also come to like them, wanting very much for a resolution that will bring happiness to all parties, even when it seems that no solution is possible.  Credit Sardi for managing to generate hearty interest in the fate of all involved, and without giving too much away, he manages to deliver an audience-pleasing tale that's almost impossible to dislike.  For an independent film, Sardi is also blessed to have some terrific talent around him.  The cinematography by Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong) is often breathtaking, and is perfectly complemented by the classical score by Stephen Warbeck (Blackball, Birthday Girl).  

In a sea of endless romantic comedies, it's nice to see that there are still filmmakers that have the ability to create a little slice of magic through optimistic appeal and honest characterizations, without resorting to seeing the would-be lovers in phony comedic situations or trumped-up melodrama.  Love's Brother is a dessert film through and through, not lingering long in the memory once it ends, but like most well-made desserts, it is extremely satisfying.

Qwipster's rating

©2004 Vince Leo