[su_dropcap size=”5″]F[/su_dropcap]rom the Vine features a character the movies have long loved: The miserable millionaire. A successful failure, this person will inevitably rip their life out by the root and indulge their insatiable wanderlust. They weather their spiritual crisis as only rich people can, surrounded by creature comforts and exotic scenery. After all, the prospect of a rudderless existence can only get easier when you have Tuscan sunsets and bottomless carafes of Barbera d’Asti to cushion the blow.
With that in mind, From the Vine shows us the journey of Marco Gentile (Joe Pantoliano), the burned-out CEO of an auto company. Marco has made millions, but he’s also departed from his ethical quest to make more eco-friendly vehicles. The board warns him that any coarse correction now will rock the company boat, so Marco had better go along for his own sake. As the movie begins, Marco stands before the shareholders as a powerless man, forever shackled to the bottom line. After bumbling over the first few snippets of a progress report, Marco decides that he’s Audi 5000 and heads into the sunset.
Marco’s wife Marina (Wendy Crewson) and estranged daughter Laura (Paula Brancati) are shocked by this sharp right turn. Marco returns home with a little more steam in his stride: He informs his family that he will be tromping off to his ancestral home in Italia. Marina can join him or not, but Marco is making this odyssey regardless. She opts to stay in Toronto and work, so he cheerfully boards a plane and goes solo.
Turns out, Marco is an Italian immigrant who inherited his grandfather’s Aglianico winery in the gorgeous Basilicata region. Sucks to be him, right? Granted, the grounds are pretty dilapidated. But, hey–that just means Marco gets to fix up the place while fixing himself, amirite?
Let’s not get it twisted: From the Vine is a cinematic travel brochure, designed to provoke the Pavlovian response of making you pull up Expedia and start pricing flights to Italy. And on that front, it’s a resounding success. However, when taken solely on its storytelling merit, Vine is a lot more hit-and-miss.
That starts with the Marco character. I get that he wants to have a Jerry Maguire moment and storm out of the company he helped build. And there are few things more rewarding than watching a rich asshole trying to revive his dormant spirit. But, the reckless, dickish way that Marco communicates this monumental change to his family really sours his character. Yeah, Marco has likable traits and it’s fun to watch his freewheeling trek to the Old World, but his wife and daughter are fuming pissed, and they should be. This should be the defining conflict of the movie, but the emotional payoff of this situation leaves a lot to be desired. It’s like the filmmakers don’t wanna ruin the scenery and risotto with some good, meaty drama, and this lack of tension really undercuts the film.
We also get some silly gimmicks that don’t really work. As Marco traipses around Italy, the gargoyles, statues, and vegetation come to life. They speak and sing to Marco, acting like bizarre little Greek choruses. These are meant to be cute asides that goose the whimsical aspect of the film, but all they’ll really do is pull you out of the story. That goes ditto for a few supporting Italian characters, who are so over-the-top and clichéd that they sometimes make this movie feel like a cheap sitcom.
Vine shines brightest when it lets Pantoliano have center stage. He does great work as decent man trying to find his way from the moral and ethical weeds. We like Marco and root for him because of Pantoliano. Crewson is a formidable presence as his wife, which only goes to show how much the film undercooks their relationship. If their conflict was given the heft it deserves, Vine could’ve been searing, funny, and touching, all at the same time. As is, this movie straddles the fence between silly and dramatic, and it ends up doing neither very well.
97 min. (NR, but I would call it PG-13)
Made in Italy (2020)
I went to see From the Vine last night, hoping to see a rich, beautiful movie. But even while I was watching it I felt a growing sense of frustration, feeling that it was missing the mark of what could have been a very satisfying, well crafted film. At times I felt disconnected from the main character, it was hard to feel sympathy for him, he seemed to have everything he needed – it was all very easy! And the winking gargoyles and dancing, talking vines distracted from the story. The scenery of course was lovely, but I left feeling it was a missed opportunity, and felt very disappointed.