First things first, I have to thank Alessandro Siani’s surprisingly successful 2013 comedy Il Principe Abusivo for teaching me a new Italian word. While I’ve avoided watching it and let it languish on my shelf since I bought it at the Venice Film Festival in August I’ve been assuming that “abusivo” meant “abusive” and that the movie was about an “abusive prince”, probably a stupid comedy akin to “I Soliti Idioti”, another surprisingly successful film that is overwhelmingly offensive film and is full of obnoxious and unlikable characters.
Students of language will understand what I mean by “false cognate”, and the word “abusivo” is one of those words that sounds like an English word but means something totally different. This prince is not “abusive”, he’s “unauthorized”, and though this doesn’t really help me understand the title any better, I am happy for the vocabulary lesson.
Anyway, the film’s success was a puzzle; the critics hated it, the public seemed to hate it too, and yet it was one of the top grossing films in Italy in 2013, earning 15 million euro, putting it in 8th place in the 2012-13 movie season and I realized that I was going to have to watch the stupid thing. Funny thing; I ended up enjoying it.
In Il Principe Abusivo, Letizia (played by Sarah Felberbaum ) is the beautiful princess of an imaginary kingdom similar to Monaco. Her mother and grandmother were fashion icons and media darlings, but she’s become a cloistered sovereign, cut off from her subjects and in need of some good press. The Chamberlain. played by Christian De Sica, has a plan; find an ordinary guy, get the tabloids to catch her falling in love with him, and then accuse him of cheating on her and leave him at the altar.
The most ordinary guy they can find is Antonio, played by Alessandro Siani, an out of work loser from Naples, and they cook up a “chance meeting” with photographers everywhere. Antonio doesn’t question the fact that this strikingly beautiful monarch has taken a shine to him and wants to marry him, he just kind of goes with it, ships his cousins up from the south, and makes himself at home in the castle. But when he overhears the princess talking about the plan, he’s heartbroken for some odd reason, and decides he wants to win the princess in earnest.
Stupid, right? Yeah, but not entirely. Il Principe Abusivo is clichéd, broad, and predictable, but it’s also a bit fanciful and allegorical.
Here’s the good in it:
a) The characters are likable. The princess, the chamberlain, the unemployed loser and even the stereotypical cousins from Naples seem like nice people. They are silly but not distasteful and they hang their laundry on the palace grounds but they don’t burn it down, have wild parties in it, or anything like that.
b) It’s a fairy tale, and I get that. This movie isn’t trying to be anything that it is not, and from the opening scenes when Disneyesque bluebirds fly through the castle windows, we know we are on board for fantasy, not reality.
c) The love story is actually kind of sweet. I don’t want to like the “scrocco” Antonio, the “sponger” with no ambition or decorum, but I did. He reminds me of the characters that Checco Zalone plays, dumb but lovable. And the princess isn’t a snooty or spoiled witch, she’s a rather nice person who took some bad advice.
Maybe “I’ve seen worse” is not the glowing review that Alessandro Siani would hope for, but it’s the truth. There’s a reason that it’s number 8 at the box office. It’s not horrible.