In this hilarious, lighthearted comedy from acclaimed writer/director Billy Wilder and screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond (The Apartment), a wealthy American discovers romance and the meaning of avanti while in Italy. Nominated for six Golden Globes – winning one – this “honey of a film” (Boxoffice) is as delightful as the Wilder/Diamond/Jack Lemmon classics Some Like it Hot and Irma La Douce!
American businessman Wendell Armbruster (Lemmon) is summoned to Italy after a car accident claims the lives of his father and his father’s secret mistress! And when the mistress’ daughter (Juliet Mills) also arrives – and the bodies of both of their parents disappear – the two instant foes are brought together in a baffling mystery… and an affair of the heart!
I’ve only seen ‘Avanti!’, Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon’s gazillionth pairing, twice now. I had mixed feelings about it both times.
On the one hand, I really love the setting and the overall story. Despite the theme of infidelity, I find the whole concept of two people being united by the deaths of their respective parents and falling in love in a similar way as they once did, very romantic; it’s as though it were destined to be. This was a play, originally, and I can totally see why Wilder and Diamond decided to adapt it for the screen: it’s choice material, being at once funny yet romantic and filled with fascinating characters and outrageous -but believable- situations.
The thing that really didn’t work for me was that Lemmon’s character is a wound-up, uptight prick – so it made him difficult to connect with (i.e. I’m a different kind of prick ). He isn’t exactly abrasive, per se, but it does take quite a long time for his soft side to show up. And, as an everyman, Lemmon is best when he doesn’t play the jerk – he’s usually the one we’re meant to relate to. And no one wants to relate to a jerk.
But the main problem with the film is that it’s tooooo looooooooong. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that could be trimmed without affecting the story or pacing – both of which were superb. However, a film of this sort should never be two and half hours long (in my mind, it goes 30-40 minutes over the ideal length). Again, I believe that cutting material would have harmed this particular story, but you almost need an intermission to get through the film version.
There was also this recurring thorn in my side: the consistent cracks and comments being made about the girl’s weight. Personally, I thought that Juliet Mills was quite lovely, actually – so I don’t know what the fuss was whatsoever. At worst, you could call her big-boned – and even this would be needlessly cruel, because all she is is NOT stick-thin (à la Audrey Hepburn, for instance). It’s this kind of crap that makes women take on all sorts of unhealthy habits, thinking they’re overweight when they’re not. And that irks me to no end.
However, I was rather impressed by the balanced amount of nudity between the male and female characters: there was even more screen time devoted to Lemmon’s @$$ (for good or bad :P) as there was to Mills’ breasts (which, incidentally, Wilder filmed in such a matter-of-factly way that it wasn’t titillating at all – it just was. He kept the camera on her for so long that the nudity was no longer a guilty pleasure, but just a natural part of the scenery. I found his approach tasteful, not exploitative ).
And, Lemmon’s role aside, I quite liked the cast. Lemmon is his usually solid self, and Mills was absolutely delightful, even though she didn’t exactly light up the screen (which was appropriate for the character anyway ). There was also a role that would have been perfect for Walter Matthau, in the American Ambassador to France. In his stead, Edward Andrews does a decent job with it.
Then there was the hotel manager, played by Clive Revill, who was omnipresent and couldn’t have been performed better. If Revill wasn’t so well suited for the part, I think the film would have suffered – he’s definitely the highlight of the piece. The way that he mastered the deferential, deadpan style of the character but also injected a knowing, wink-wink, side to him was absolutely brilliant. I would love to see what else he’s done.
All in all, ‘Avanti!’ is a perfect lazy-afternoon flick. It’s pleasant, well-made, and has a few nice surprises that keep it afloat despite its length. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, ’cause there really isn’t enough action to keep the testosterone crowd happy, but romantic and/or more casual audiences would likely enjoy what it has to offer.
Post scriptum: the trailer for this film is especially bad – it’s a total mishmash of unrelated bits that make no sense whatsoever. It’s incoherent and it’s the worst I’ve seen in ages. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t base myself on it to judge whether or not to see this film.