If you are only familiar with Barry Morrow from his Oscar-winning screenplay for Rain Man, you might not know quite what to expect of his newest film. Smitten! is an hour and a half of goofy fun in the rustic Italian countryside. A little light on plot but full of love, humor, and sincerity, it makes for a decently satisfying mix of romantic comedy and magical realism.
Shakespearean Premise Gets Some Modern Twists
The story begins with a well-worn trope. Tyler (Darren Criss), a young man with a recent divorce and a failed Bed and Breakfast, is being pushed by his father (James Remar) to take on a bigger role in the family fashion business. He’s sent on a buying trip to Milan—where he promptly gets kidnapped by a trio of mafia goons looking for a ransom. The mafioso driving the getaway car makes a wrong turn and they end up spending the night in an abandoned farmhouse in an out-of-the-way little village. A farmhouse with an unusual charm on the door…
Things take a twist when Tyler and his abductors wake up the next morning and each falls promptly in love with the first living being he sees. For Aldo (Duccio Camerini), this is Fedelia (Anita Pititto), a lonely, plain-faced shepherdess. For Bambo (Massimo De Lorenzo), it’s Rocco (Giulio Corso), a brawny, handsome young woodcutter and farmhand. For Cetto (Fabrizio Biggio), poor fellow, it’s the mayor’s prize cow! As for Tyler, he is head over heels for independent, beautiful innkeeper Rosalia Drago (Madalina Ghenea).
If this turn of events rings a bell, it might be you’re recalling William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which the fairy Puck uses a magic flower on several young people with similar effect. Smitten! avoids the Bard’s love triangles and shattered friendships, though, in favor of a lighter, simpler tale. There are bumps in the road, to be sure—Tyler is a thoughtless child as he first tries to woo Rosalia, and the gangsters’ boss (Remo Girone) is tracking them down to get his ransom money—but you’re never too worried about how things will end up.
Smitten Supporting Characters Steal the Show
In Criss and Ghenea, Morrow has two talented, charismatic leads. It is frustrating, then, to see them saddled with such a by-the-numbers storyline. Boy meets girl. Girl is not interested in boy. Boy tries to get in girl’s good graces. Girl slowly warms up to him. Boy makes an obnoxious, grandiose gesture. Girl rejects him again. A thrilling dance scene at the village festival. Ill feelings dispelled, they’re in love! Root for them as you may, it’s hard to believe this happening organically, sans magic.
Luckily, the romances of the erstwhile mafiosi come along as charmingly as you please. While the movie casts Fedelia’s looks in a negative light, Aldo loves her wholeheartedly. She, though outraged to learn of his criminal past, is enchanted that he will give it all up for her. For Bambo and Rocco, their affection grows from a manly companionship to a heartwarming tenderness, despite their fear of the latter’s father (Domenico Fortunato) disapproving. It is a relief to see a queer love story treated so matter-of-factly. Cetto, after allaying the Mayor Prospero’s (Roberto Nobile) suspicions that he wants to steal the cow, eventually gets to express his feelings by taking care of her, feeding her, and milking her. And, if you’ll pardon a small spoiler, when she ultimately evinces a preference for an actual bull, he accepts it sadly but with dignity.
These ostensibly ‘side’ stories give Smitten! a robust, sympathetic heart. While some might find Tyler and Rosalia’s narrative a bit less engaging, Criss and Ghenea throw themselves into the roles and bring them to life. The colorful characters of the village, the beautiful countryside, the little flourishes of music and architecture provide a delightful background. All in all, Smitten! is a sometimes silly, usually fun, and always heartfelt movie.
Written and directed by Barry Morrow
Starring Darren Criss, Madalina Ghenea, Duccio Camerini, Massimo De Lorenzo, Fabrizio Biggio, Remo Girone, Angela Molina, James Remar, Claudio Bigagli, Roberto Nobile, Alberto Franco, Domenico Fortunato, Giulio Corso, Anita Pititto
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Images courtesy of SMITTEN!
For more information visit the Smitten website
About the Author:
Harold Jaffe is a poet, playwright, amateur trapeze artist, freelance greeting card designer, and pie deliveryman. He earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College with a concentration in Poetry at Wellesley College. Since returning to Chicago, he has worked extensively with Cave Painting Theater Company, where his and Gwen Kelly-Masterton's play The Land of Never-Lack was produced in Spring of 2016, as well as with the Old World Theatre Company and the late great Oracle Productions. Some of his writing can be found at haroldjaffe.tumblr.com and in his chapbook Perpetual Emotion Machine, now available at Women & Children First.