September 28, 2020

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More lemons than lemonade

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/8/2019 (395 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The makers of Road to the Lemon Grove are marketing this comedy to Italian-Canadians in much the same way My Big Fat Greek Wedding was marketed in its opening weeks to North Americans of Greek heritage.

Deepening the tie-in from a local perspective, Lemon Grove director Dale Hildebrand is a Manitoba boy, just as Greek Wedding’s Nia Vardalos was a Winnipeg girl.

Alas, the parallels pretty much end there. When all is said and done, MBFGW was a polished, professional work that primarily functioned as a winning rom-com. Vardalos having fun with her Greek background was just the icing on the baklava.

Road to the Lemon Grove is a ragged, unpolished movie, scattershot in both its themes and its esthetic.

It’s primarily the story of a troubled father-son relationship. Calogero (played by Hildebrand’s co-writer, Charly Chiarelli) is a university instructor who attempts to teach bored university students on the subject of Italian immigration. (This doesn’t feel like a real job, but it does allow the character to pontificate at length on the subject.)

Calogero is also in mourning for his recently deceased father, Antonio (also played by Chiarelli), whom we see at the beginning of the film approaching heavenly gates that look an awful lot like the doors of an airplane hangar.

The unseen God (voiced by the melliflous Manitoba songstress Loreena McKennitt) is refusing Antonio entry until he resolves his relationship with his son.

The resolution involves Calogero returning to his dad’s Sicilian birthplace to take possession of the overgrown lemon grove he was bequeathed.

As it happens, that land is being sought by the scheming Vincenzos from the maternal side of Calogero’s family. These include Uncle Zio (the top-billed but barely seen Burt Young of Rocky fame) and the leering criminal Guido (Nick Mancuso).

Somehow, Calogero does manage to get to Sicily, where he promptly meets the fading Italian movie star Maria (Rossella Brescia) he has long lusted after.

But just as it looks as if Antonio’s afterlife machinations will succeed, Guido shows up to rain on the sfilata.

As a director, the former cinematographer Hildebrand strives for eye-popping visuals at all times, sometimes to excess. He gleefully parodies the showdown motifs of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns to the point where one wishes for the neo-realist restraint of a Roberto Rossellini.

More problematic is the script. Whenever a character lectures directly at the camera (which Calogero is obliged to do after taking leave from his job), it’s a sign the writers haven’t found a way to invisibly integrate the movie’s themes into the story. It stops the movie cold on more than one occasion.

Even more problematic is Chiarelli as an actor. Apart from being too old for the role, he doesn’t have the charisma to carry one character, let alone two. He should have traded roles with the far more appealing Mancuso.

Yet one is left with the niggling suspicion there’s a good movie in here somewhere.

What’s that old saying about when the multiplex gives you lemons?

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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