Avanti! (1972) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for nudity, sensuality, and some language
Running Time: 144 min.

Cast: Jack Lemmon, Juliet Mills, Clive Revill, Edward Andrews
Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: I.A.L. Diamond, Billy Wilder (based on the play, "Avanti", by Samuel Taylor)
Review published October 28, 2005

Avanti! is the fifth of seven collaborations between famed director Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd.) and actor Jack Lemmon (Glengarry Glen Ross, Short Cuts), and the rapport they must have had shows in nearly every frame.  While classics like Some Like It Hot and The Apartment will gain most of the praise, Avanti! May not have the notoriety, but it is every bit as funny and charming, although it was seen as a major flop for Wilder at the time of its release.  There is a sophisticated nature to it, partially because of the R rating for its nudity and innuendo, but there is also still an innocence to the film that keeps it from ever crossing the line into crassness of gratuity.  It’s a lovely, well-acted, and wholly likeable story that is easily one of the best films of 1972.

Lemmon stars as Wendell Armbruster, Jr., a business exec called to Italy to pick up his recently deceased father's body to bring it back to the United States.  Time is money in Wendell's world, but the people of Italy are far more laid-back, and due to a few too many regulations, he finds he must wait in order everything is in order before returning back to his Baltimore home.  To compound his frustrations further, it seems his father didn't die alone in the car crash that took his life, and it is soon revealed that the other passenger was a woman, and his Wendell Sr.'s unknown (to Jr. anyway) lover.  Wendell wants to keep the whole sordid affair under wraps and just get his dad back for burial, but now that he's holed up for a few days, he has to deal with demanding hotel employees, and his father's lover's daughter, the "chunky" Englishwoman named Pamela Piggott (The Rare Breed, Carry On Jack).  The two decide to pay their respects to their lost parents by reenacting how they spent their time together on a typical day.

At nearly 2 ˝ hours in length, Avanti! is long in duration, but the time does fly by.  It is a deliberately leisurely movie, one that allows us to take in the beautiful scenery, lush music, and the many personalities of Italy.  To those that think it takes too long, you are missing the entire point of the movie, which is to learn to relax and enjoy life, as the people of Italy do.  Just as Wendell in the beginning of the film, wanting everything to be done his way and in a hurry, Avanti! is slow and full of quieter moments, never really in a hurry to get anywhere.  As a result, Wendell learns that there are more important things in life than the hustle and bustle of the American business world, soon holding on for every precious moment he has left before he returns to it.  In turn, we too wait for the film to get to its plot in the beginning, but we too come to appreciate the time it takes to develop each scene, rich with character details and gorgeous scenery, until we also hope that it doesn’t end too soon.

On a side note, the only thing that seemed a bit silly was how much every character in the film makes an issue of Miss Piggott’s weight.  Perhaps in the early 1970s, everyone was expected to be rail thin, but from my perspective, she didn’t look fat at all.  I feel genuinely sad for any women weighing over 120 lbs. that watch this -- they might start purging all their meals immediately after seeing it! 

Regardless of this one gripe, enough clever, subtle touches, plus a good deal of symbolism, play out throughout, in this very astute and aware film by Wilder.  Some critics claimed his best days were behind him when this was released, but as time goes on, Avanti! has rightfully become a small kind of classic in its own right  a merging of old-fashioned romance with more modern sensibilities.   Long, but romantic, refreshing, and completely enchanting.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo