Greed, desire, frustration and revenge all course through Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film The Family Friend, his follow-up to the captivating The Consequences of Love. There are similarities between the two – the enigmatic protagonist who falls for the young, beautiful woman seemingly just out of reach; each man undone by his desire; the lurking, criminal underbelly of humanity that forms the backdrop to both films. But while The Consequences of Love was absorbing, original and thought-provoking, The Family Friend is an irritating waste of potential talent.
Geremia ‘Heart of Gold’ (Giacomo Rizzo) is a vile, miserly loan shark. Seventy and unmarried, he lives in a squalid apartment with his bed-ridden mother, peeping on the young girls playing volleyball on the court outside the window. The town’s professional matchmaker has exhausted all possible brides for him, save for the Romanian immigrant who can barely hide her disgust. Unconcerned by the revulsion he generates, the loan shark insinuates himself into the lives of his clients, the undesirable ‘family friend’. He is eventually unmanned by the young, impossibly beautiful Rosalba (Laura Chiatti). A prized daughter, she is betrayed by her parents for their own vanity. When they realise that they cannot possibly pay off the money borrowed for her wedding, Rosalba’s body is sold to Geremia to cut a better deal. Hardly innocent, she extracts her own, cruel revenge.
Wonderfully shot, beautifully lit and well-acted, there are some brilliant, insightful moments in The Family Friend. Unfortunately, Sorrentino simply tries too hard to create a film that is provocative, nasty, and jarring. There are too many gratuitous absurdities in the film that add little to the plot, while Geremia is too grotesque, too perverted, to be taken seriously. The film is especially let down by one achingly terrible scene that could kindly be called a tribute to David Lynch gone horribly wrong, involving volleyballs and a large woman in control top underwear. The denouement, which could have been an interesting plot twist, is rushed and unconvincing, the pacing appalling.
The director wants us to believe that we are all corrupt, all capable of selling ourselves for the right price. Beauty is twisted into an ugly weapon. But Sorrentino sabotages his own message by placing edginess and style on a pedestal and leaving old-fashioned narrative in the gutter. Sorrentino is undoubtedly capable of making another intriguing film like The Consequences of Love; perhaps next time he’ll be less obsessed with the meaningless provocation that has ultimately made The Family Friend such a disappointment.