The resurgence in Italian social comedies now brings us Caterina in the Big City, with a class-tinged premise familiar to American audiences: the new kid in high school. Actually, Caterina would love it if that were the whole story, but her father, a teacher who moves his middle-class family from the boondocks to Rome, is tragically interested in fitting in, but hopelessly inept at it. In Paolo Virzi’s broad satirical drama, Caterina experiments with the political cliques at her cosmopolitan school, while her father both cajoles and denounces the power-elite parents.
The school is a political cartoon come to life, and both Left and Right court Caterina. First, Margherita, the Sontagian-maned leader of the “alternatives,” takes her to a protest and gets her drunk. Then Daniela, the Italian equivalent of Jenna Bush (the party twin), introduces her to chauffeur-assisted shoplifting. But the most persuasive portrait is Caterina’s father, played with self-destructive fervor by Italian star Sergio Castellitto. He rails against the cronyism which props up and ties down the system, even as he hawks his manuscript to Margherita’s mother and lobbies Daniela’s father. Castellitto preserves the justified everyman’s yowl in a prideful but human character whom Virzi at times boldly renders unsympathetic.
What about our heroine? Though decent and adorable with her droopy country-siesta eyes, she remains a cipher after her indelible first appearance bouncing at choral practice. And a deflated ending unconvincingly spotlights Caterina’s mother, until then a neurotic ornament. But satires don’t always end well, and this disappointment almost feels appropriate.
Opens June 3 at Landmark Sunshine