The Amati Girls

on January 19, 2001 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
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   When a competent bunch of actors all come across in the same piece as awkward, groping and horrifically maudlin, one must look elsewhere for the problem. In "The Amati Girls," an attempt to capture the tensions and complexities of the women within a close Italian brood, the blame falls upon writer-director Anne DeSalvo. Shockingly amateurish and stereotypical in character as well as plot, the film is painful, disappointing and a waste of some substantial talent.

   The Amati girls are comprised of four sisters: Grace (Mercedes Ruehl), a tower of strength who nobly endures years of typical thoughtless macho garbage from husband Joe (Paul Sorvino), scolds Christine (Sean Young, dyed orange with a bad tan-yourself lotion in an unfortunate attempt to make her appear more ethnic) for considering leaving her hard-working husband Paul (Jamey Sheridan, appearing vaguely lost); meanwhile, Denise (Dinah Manoff, a lively talent not seen enough on the bigscreen) must weather her sisters' scorn for remaining single, despite the sincere interests of longtime beau Lawrence (Mark Harmon, looking apologetic and ill-at-ease). All share a hearty concern for youngest sister Dolores (Lily Knight in the film's most sincere performance which, for better or worse, appears to be mimicking any one of Amanda Plummer's unbalanced screen and stage characters), left mentally challenged by an accident for which Christine takes the blame, and who also seeks personal and romantic fulfillment. Above all the sisters' neuroses, real or imagined, towers mother Dolly (Cloris Leachman, in the only other watchable performance), who can only cope with her husband's recent death by obsessively planning her own.

   All this mayhem ought to provide a substantial story, but somehow DeSalvo allows her dialogue and story to plummet straight into artifice or movie-of-the-week melodrama. This is best captured by the repetitive theme of "blessings" (surely intended as warm and endearing, but which ends cloying and phony), wherein Dolores is constantly pulled out of simmering emotional outbursts by her sisters telling her to pray to a saint. Dolores' final response to the story's theatrical climax is the film's one real moment of true emotion. In addition, the cinematography ranges from competent to frustrating as the actresses go from horribly overlit to stumbling around in the half-dark.    Starring Mercedes Ruehl, Paul Sorvino, Cloris Leachman and Sean Young. Directed and written by Anne DeSalvo. Produced by James Alex and Steven C. Johnson. A Providence release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG for mild language and brief sensuality. Running time: 94 min.

Tags: Mercedes Ruehl, Paul Sorvino, Cloris Leachman and Sean Young. Directed and written by Anne DeSalvo. Produced by James Alex and Steven C. Johnson. A Providence release. Romantic comedy, death, accident, mayhem, emotional, stereotypical, Italian
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