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.