I think all of us want to be on stage, at least in theory. For me, it started with some plays in high school. But from there, those aspirations were cut short due to my father telling me that I needed a real job (which was his favorite thing to tell me in high school and college). I don’t think the decade I spent in karaoke bars (and actually singing) really counts for anything either. So I’ve always been fascinated with theater, particularly when it comes to comedy. When I saw King of Laughter as a possible review title, I took a peek at the trailer and decided to give it a shot. After all, what’s not to like about a story featuring the famous actor/playwright Eduardo Scarpetta in a battle with the courts over the concept of parody? Let’s take a look.
We are at a showing of the play Poverty and Nobility. At the backstage area, we see actors eating pizza. Then we move across to the box office area where everyone seems to be trying to get a ticket, only to be told that it is sold out. Eduardo Scarpetta (played by Toni Servillo) puts on his makeup while members of his family watch. Nearby, a table has two men seated. The proceeds from tonight’s play are counted over and over again while they try to figure out the payout for each crew member. Finally, we reach the point in the play where Eduardo Scarpetta makes his appearance to a sea of thunderous applause.
As we continue to watch the film, we see the family dynamic that goes beyond the stage. Eduardo has three children, nieces and nephews running around on stage as well as off. Later on, we see a meal get served on stage, which of course leads to more comedic moments as the play continues on. Unknown to the audience, a girl misses her line and pays the punishment from Eduardo. The show soon finishes, and the crowd greatly appreciates the performance they have witnessed.
Meanwhile at home, Eduardo gets his feet soaked and tended to by his wife’s sister, Anna (played by Chiara Baffi). Rosa (played by Maria Nazionale), his wife, walks in after a little while and tells Eduardo that needs to make a will for his three children. This includes Vincenzo (played by Eduardo Scarpetta, who is actually a descendant of the Scarpetta line), his son, who the father thinks is aloof and tends to miss lines in production. Eduardo tells him that he eventually will inherit the role of Sciosciammocca, the legendary character that he portrays. Unfortunately Vincenzo wants to go on to do other things not involving the family lineage.
But this giant family is a little more integrated than we first thought. Eduardo is sleeping with not only his wife but also her sister Anna and the younger sister Luisa (played by Cristiana Dell’Anna). That sleeping around has also produced multiple children including Eduardo (played by Alessandro Manna) and Titina (played by Marzia Onorato), who are not aware of who their father is.
As the show goes on the road to Rome, the Scarpettas and their extended family take in a production called the Daughter of Iorio by famous playwright, D’Annunzio. Eduardo is enchanted by the production and thinks of his next great idea, a parody called Son of Iorio. Eduardo does the rational thing and decides to seek out the playwright and ask him his permission to make the parody. D’Annunzio gives his verbal permission, but this takes Eduardo and the rest of his family down a path that eventually leads into a giant legal battle that could end up tarnishing the legacy of the Scarpettas.
This film is actually based on the story of real-life playwright Eduardo Scarpetta. It’s hard to say how much of the family life situation is dramatized, but we do know that the nephew Eduardo De Filippo, who was a legendary playwright and actor in his own right, was revealed to be the illegitimate son of Eduardo Scarpetta by others in the family (even though he would never actually admit it). This movie also has a lot of moving parts, and it will be a struggle to keep up with all of the children, sisters, and regular cast of this show despite the fine performances by pretty much everyone involved.
In addition, it’s hard to be sympathetic to the lead character when he has as many illegitimate children as he does, and occasionally beats them as well. The family feels like one big mess, and only a few strings need to be pulled before the whole thing comes crashing down. It sounds exciting, but it really gives the viewer on an uneasy feeling for much of the picture.
Furthermore, one of the describing points of the movie is this “huge court case” that makes it sound like The Verdict or A Few Good Men. The court case is basically made up of one sweeping monologue at the end of the film, and that’s pretty much it outside of a few preliminary hearings. It’s a family drama, not a courtroom thriller or anything of the sort. In other words, false advertising, which hurts the film considerably.
For those curious about the DVD from Film Movement, it has trailers for King of Laughter, Troubled Love, Farinelli, and L’Innocente. Also per most Film Movement releases, it has a short film entitled La Smorfia, directed by Emanuele Palamara. It runs about 14 minutes (16:39 with credits). In the film, Carmine is an old Neapolitan singer whose life was changed after an accident which crippled his face and left him confined to a wheelchair. His dream and aim since the accident has been to go back to the theater. Nina, Carmine’s sister, stands in his way. It’s charming and worth a watch.
My time watching the Scarpetta family was entertaining despite its share of issues. I think from the advertising I was expecting something else, but I wasn’t disappointed with what I received, either. In short, it is an experience and proof that there are good Italian movies that aren’t slasher horror films. It has a good, moving story, and Toni Servillo is fantastic as Eduardo Scarpetta. Sure, you might not like the lead character, but there is no denying that he carries the room whenever he enters a scene. Enjoy.
Special Note: For those who are region-free in their viewing, there is an Italian Blu-ray release of this film (search by the Italian title, Qui rido io) with English subtitles.