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BREAD, MY SWEET, THE(director/writer: Melissa Martin; cinematographer: Mark Knobil; editor: Chuck Aikman; music: Susan Hartford; cast: Scott Baio (Dominic), Kristin Minter (Lucca), Rosemary Prinz (Bella), John Seitz (Massimo), Billy Mott (Eddie), Shuler Hensley (Pino), Mary Harvey (Sister Grace); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: William C. Hulley/Adrienne Wehr; Who Knew Productions/ Panorama Entertyainment; 2001)
If you’re hungry for this kind of soul food, then this indie should be easy to digest.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A heartfelt love story that engagingly captures in all their joys and sadness an Italian immigrant family and the second generation Americans living in the Italian Strip District of Pittsburg. Of all the similar tried ethnic sitcom treats that I have caught in the last few years, films I normally frown upon, such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I found this one on the top of my list as the most enjoyable. Though I still must confess, this crowd-pleasing story makes me uneasy with all its force-fed confections it serves to my usually unsentimental soul that does not need a film to lift my spirits as much as it needs a work of uncompromising art. This is not a work of art, but it is a well-acted and efficiently made film (no easy task, by the way!) by first-time director and writer Melissa Martin (previously a theater person) that redeems itself by picturing believable characters that go through real situations and do so intelligently. The emphasis should be placed on “intelligently,” as none of the characters disgrace themselves with uncalled for silly antics or act out of character, or seem to be doing something that you wouldn’t expect from their character as developed. This it does despite an overload of so many of the usual ingredients baked into the story. Such formulaic plot devices as a rule turn me off or make me suspicious of the feel-good intentions, and this film seems to have them all: the use of sudsy background music to key in on emotions (acts like those scoreboards at ballgames that tell the fans when to make noise for the home team), a dying loved one given a tearful sendoff, eccentric ethnics doing comic shticks at the drop of a hat, sweetly dropped pearls of wisdom flowing like homemade wine, a beaming child-like adult retard who is hug-gable, and a romance made in filmdom heaven that smacks of being outrageous in a fairy tale way. Since I’m not softening in my old age, there was something sincerely genuine about this love story and call for family values and for respecting others that drew me to its side and made me feel touched without being used.

Dominic Pyzola (Scott Baio, former star of television’s “Happy Days”) is bright, ambitious, and a hard-working young bachelor who has two contrasting careers and a graduate degree in business. His day job takes him to the business center of town where he is a ruthless corporate deal maker, who has to live with the knowledge that he is a bottom line guy who fires people without thinking about them as real people. His night job is a labor of love where he runs an old-fashioned Italian bakery, using only the best ingredients as there are no mixers in his cookies we hear him tell a questioning customer, with his aimless wannabe actor and playboy brother Eddie (Mott) and the eldest Pino (Hensley), a loving mentally challenged soul who wouldn’t hurt a fly and is nurtured by both brothers with love and understanding. The bachelors share an apartment in the bakery building. Above them lives their landlord, the saintly Bella (Prinz) and her lovable grouchy old-timer husband Massimo (Seitz). The old-world couple have found happiness in their 40-years of marriage and in how naturally they toss insults back and forth in mock fun and have come to accept their lot in life. Massimo has one leg amputated and hobbles around with a walker, while Bella lives for the day that her American born daughter Lucca (Minter) will get married as she saves her money for the possible marriage in coffee tins. But Lucca is not the marrying kind and after getting a law degree has traveled the world through the Peace Corps, something mom has accepted as making the world a better place to live but still wishes her loved-one would marry a nice Italian guy. The guy she has in mind is Dominic, whom she calls a good man, “a piece of bread.”

When Dominic alone takes Bella to the hospital in an emergency and learns she has a terminal stomach cancer with only six months to live, this shakes him up and makes him reevaluate his life. The woman who treated him as a surrogate son after his parents died three years ago in a car accident, only requests that he keep this a secret as she wants to die with dignity in her home and not burden her family and friends. Dominic quits his plastic corporate job to become a full-time baker and seeks to get word to the not located Lucca to come home. Dominic has never met Lucca, who has vanished and has recently not kept in touch with the family because she’s ashamed that she’s always a quitter and has also quit the Peace Corps. When Lucca returns, Dominic impulsively decides that he wants to make Bella happy and the best way he can do that is by marrying Lucca. The heart of the film is about their courtship and getting to know each other, where each comes clean and tries to face the flaws in their character. Only Bella and the audience are absolutely sure they are a perfect match.

The Bread, My Sweet is a strong family value film about helping others and trying to make the world a better place. Its humanistic aims are indisputable, but how it gets there is the trick. It’s a film that will most likely turn off those who don’t take the sugary bait, but on the other hand if you don’t go into a completely cynical snit on all this tugging at the heartstrings (admittedly something that bothered me) then you can tune into its simplicity and honesty and might be surprised to find that this kind of love for family and culture and fight against cancer is not that strange. It is the kind of trying situation that ordinary Americans are up against all the time in the modern-world. Too many Americans have forgotten that it used to be the natural way for people to die in their homes with dignity and that getting married is about getting to know one another as much as being physically attracted. Though, it certainly can be argued that the film took no chances by making the couple attractive while also giving closure to all aspects of the plot line so that there was not much to muse about after all was said and done. But … if you’re hungry for this kind of soul food, then this indie should be easy to digest.

REVIEWED ON 10/11/2003 GRADE: B –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”