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The First Beautiful Thing 

A bittersweet soap opera with whimsical touches

click to enlarge Not exactly a day at the beach for the family
  • Not exactly a day at the beach for the family

As tempestuous as the emotions are in The First Beautiful Thing, Paolo Virzì's satisfying drama doesn't feel inimitably Italian: It depicts a universal affliction of the late 20th century, a time of demoralizing transition in the world, especially for proto-feminists living in small towns. In 2009, Bruno, a college professor and poet in his late 40s, reluctantly goes home to see his dying mother, Anna. He's a bit of a misanthrope, and he has crippling low self-esteem. The reasons why emerge in the scenes that flash back to his childhood. Bruno's bellicose father knocks Anna around and blames her for his problems; Anna, a nascent free spirit, tries to raise Bruno and his sister with as much love and imagination as she can muster. The cheerful dying Anna of the 21st century isn't the timid thirtysomething mother of the '70s, and her transition is at the heart of the film, a bittersweet soap opera with whimsical touches. Bruno's reedy teen-age nephew is in a rock band, and when Bruno asks about weed, the kid assures him that the musicians are clean. He never catches on that his disconsolate uncle is trying to make a score. In Italian, with subtitles. Starts Fri., May 20. Regent Square

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