HOMIE SPUMONI (2007)
Starring Donald Faison, Whoopi Goldberg, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Joey Fatone, Paul Mooney, Tony Rock, Alvaro D’Antonio, Michelle Arvizu, Kira Clavell, Cameron Ansell and Neil Crone.
Screenplay by Mike Cerrone, Steve Cerrone and Glenn Ciano.
Directed by Mike Cerrone.
Distributed by R-Caro Productions. 84 minutes. Rated R.
It’s interesting that Homie Spumoni – a romantic comedy which tries to make a poignant argument for human tolerance and fighting prejudice by fixing up a black man who thinks he’s Italian with a Cuban woman who thinks she is Jewish – ends up wallowing in insulting stereotypes of blacks, whites, Jews, Italians and even the Japanese and the Irish. (The Cubans get off relatively scott-free, but that is undoubtedly only because it is not revealed that the Jewish girl was actually Cuban until the final scene.)
It’s a small world after all, but in Homie Spumoni the divide between people is a chasm. It takes place in a world where all the differences in people are dwelled on relentlessly before being resolved in a manufactured, and unrealistic feel-good ending. The problem is, this place that the characters end up could have easily been reached without all the drama if most of the characters didn’t have their heads stuck up their asses.
Do you remember the scene near the beginning of Steve Martin’s early comedy The Jerk when the black sharecropper family that adopted him tells his man-child character Navin Johnson that he wasn’t their natural child? “You mean I’m going to stay this color?” he asked, horrified.
Well, Homie Spumoni takes that scene and essentially stretches it out to feature length.
The film starts in flashback – showing a married Italian woman whose husband has been unable to get her pregnant finding a basket in the local river that contains a small baby. Since the child is black, she and her husband move to the United States with the bambino so that he will fit in.
Donald Faison, who is so good in Scrubs but never gets the same attention as co-star Zach Braff, plays that baby, now named Renato, as a grown man. Somehow, even though he is in his twenties, he has never figured out that he is not just a particularly dark-skinned Italian immigrant. This is kind of hard to believe – no matter how sheltered he was in his life, no one ever brought the possibility that he was black up to him? Once the movie starts it happens to him pretty regularly, but he looks like it is the first time it has happened. Faison does a good job with the role, bringing charm and grace and likeability to the role, but you never really believe it.
While volunteering at an animal shelter (in fact, right after he did an extended but kind of weird song and dance routine for the caged pooches) he meets a beautiful girl named Alli (Jamie-Lynn Sigler of The Sopranos) who is looking for a dog. Of course, the dog is never mentioned again – we never even know if she got one, plus she is living with her parents who would obviously have a say in whether she had a dog or not – so it seems like this may have been a pretty convenient plot point just to get them together.
In fact, there is no rhyme or reason to most of the storytelling. One plot point that is revealed an hour and ten minutes into the movie is that one of the major supporting characters has to use a wheelchair. There is no reason for that revelation – nor is there any reason given why in all the other scenes that he appeared he was seated – except to make a surprise reveal that has no real pay-off. It doesn’t advance the story any. It does not change the relationship of this character with the people around him. So why did they feel the need to hide it – other than to elicit a cheap shocked gasp of “you mean he can’t walk” from the audience?
Of course, you know it’s only a matter of time before Renato’s real parents (Whoopi Goldberg and Paul Mooney) show up, calling him by his given name of Leroy. Naturally this throws his life in a spin – he was a relatively-prejudiced Italian, how is he supposed to compute this? How will he tell the Jewish Alli, who was having trouble getting her mother to accept that she was dating a Catholic, that he was also black?
Hijinks ensue, people refuse to say what they think or feel, there is a good amount of fish-out-of-water humor – all leading to a staggeringly anti-climactic (and rather tone-deaf) duet of “I’m in the Mood for Love” at a hospital talent show.
It’s hard to totally dislike Homie Spumoni (which apparently originally had the even worse title Catfish in Black Bean Sauce) because you feel like the filmmakers do have their hearts in the right place. I’m sure they really were just trying to show that all people have little faults and quirks and we all deserve love and understanding. I also believe than many of the disturbing racial slurs were intended to be troubling to the audience. Unfortunately, co-writer/director Mike Cerrone – who also co-wrote Me, Myself & Irene, yet another borderline offensive comedy which was trying to make a positive statement about human tolerance, in that case for the mentally disturbed – just doesn’t seem to have the subtlety and grace as a writer or filmmaker to get these valid and important points across.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 15, 2007.