What is it about those Italian-Americans in the movies? Italian-Americans make some of the best characters out there. Madone! I just saw Two-family House (De Felitta; 2000) starring Michael Rispoli (who later went on to play, as several other castmembers from Two-family House, in the Sopranos). Small world, the Italian-American world on celluloid. Marty Scorcese and Bob De Niro were especially instrumental in bringing them to the big screen in a big, commercial-success kind of way. Let me rephrase that: they were the most influencing ones.
Italian-American stories of coming-of-age and surviving to the beat of your bare knuckles are, in a way, the story of anyone who’s ever immigrated to the States in the last 60 years. Except that in the movies, the bodies tend to pile up a little faster than in real life.
Still, Two-family House veers away from convention, compared to all these other movies we Americans (and definitely us, New Yorkers) have watched these last twenty years or so. I won’t get into details here so as not to spoil the end, but something very strange and unexpected happens when Buddy meets his wife at the Starlight diner. This is probably the only element of the film where Two-family house differs slightly from the rest of the pack.
Films about Italian-Americans, though wildly popular, are usually pretty predictable–but it’s that predictability that we seek and have learned…. to expect and hope for. Films like ‘A Bronx Tale,’ (1993) ‘Good Fellas,’ (1990) and ‘Casino’ (1995) will fulfill their strict quota of violence and to our satisfaction. But these features are not about posturing and throwing some testosterone about the room. This is the modern-day western, adjusted to fit your television screen. Unlike westerns, to which films like these I mention here are often compared, women have gained a little bit more screen time and influence over their fire-spitting men. And Although the theater-going experience will never be discounted by me, these films have house-bound appeal. It’s comfortable (and comforting) to watch men butcher other men from the confines of your home.