Probably, you’ve got to be a second- or third-generation Italian-American from Queens properly to appreciate Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding, the long-running off-Broadway show now brought to the silver screen by Roger Paradiso. At any rate I could not and, apart from a few chuckles, found it woefully unfunny. Though the film was made over three years ago, it is only now finding a commercial release. The theatrical original was an improvisational work in which the audience were treated as guests at the eponymous wedding. Mr. Paradiso’s version purports to be a wedding video by the gay Hispanic film student, Raphael (Guillermo Diaz), whose camera always seems to be in the wrong place at the right time. This accounts for the quasi-cinema verite look of the film.
The slender peg on which the action is hung is the fact that the bride’s mother, Josephina Vitale (Priscilla Lopez), thinks that her darling Tina (Mila Kunis) is marrying beneath her in linking her lot to Tony (Joey McIntyre). Though born and raised in the same Queens neighborhood as his family, the Nunzios, she and her late husband Vito subsequently moved to the upscale precincts of Massapequa, where the Nunzios look like barbarian invaders. The father of the groom and family patriarch, “Big Tony” Nunzio (John Fiore) owns a strip club back in Queens called “Animal Kingdom.” Loud, coarse and domineering, he is divorced and living with a much younger bimbo-type named Maddy (Krista Allen). He enjoys embarrassing his son in front of his new relations and produces an explosive reaction among the Vitales by offering Little Tony the strip club as a wedding present. He insists that Vito, who was killed by being blown off a roof while trying to put up Christmas decorations in a blizzard, “leapt to his doom” on account of his wife. “Anything to get the f*** away from her.”
There are several attempts at comic sub-plots. One of Tina’s old boyfriends, Michael (Adrian Grenier) turns up and tries to object to the union before being forcibly restrained by the groom’s brother, Dominic (Jon Bernthal). He later gets embarrassingly drunk, strips to his underpants and sits in the wedding cake. It sounds funnier than it is. Father Mark (Dean Edwards) also gets (less embarrassingly) drunk, as does Sister Clare (Mary Testa), Tina’s cousin. Tina’s brother Joey (Richard Robichaux) is a closeted homosexual, Tony’s brother Johnny (Sebastian Stan) a half-wit and the best man, Barry (Matthew Saldivar), is dealing (and smoking) drugs during the reception. Vinnie Black (Richard Portnow), proprietor of a schlock “Coliseum” where the reception is held, is an unfunny comedian.
It will be observed that the movie’s own comic invention is not of the most brilliant sort. Wedding movies always get a certain comic mileage out of the contrast between the religious and romantic trappings of the traditional wedding ceremony and the coarseness of the impulses they are meant to sanctify, but coarseness in Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding is a way of life and indulged in for its own sake. At one point Big Tony taunts Josephina, whom for a short time he dated in high school, by saying: “You puke, you fart and you f***, just like the rest of us, and you grew up doing it three blocks from my f***ing gutter in Queens.”
Something of the same envious desire to drag the audience down to his grossly physical, elemental level is detectable in the movie itself. No “phony” middle-class airs and graces here! When poor, incontinent Uncle Lui (Clement Fowler) tells Raphael’s camera “I don’t like to hear women swear,” it is as much a joke as when he pees in the holy water. We don’t get to hear his reaction to the opinion of Connie (Kim Director), the maid of honor until she is demoted in the field, that instead of a man, “a good vibrator, a good dog and a good cleaning service are all a woman needs.” Or to Barry’s best man speech, which boils down to little more than what he obviously takes to be this compliment: “I never seen two people who were more hot for each other than you two — sorry, sister. You love each other and that’s what this f***ing world needs more of.”
“Women are beautiful, they are Madonnas, if you know what I mean,” says Uncle Lui. But what Mr. Paradiso and company suppose he means is only that he is hopelessly imprisoned by an old world courtliness that amounts to nothing more than pretension. In the new world, one of the bridesmaids means something quite different when she says to Tina: “You look like Madonna, I swear to God!” It’s sad to see the richness of Italian culture reduced to this level of vulgarity, but many Italian-Americans are among those who seem to like it.
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