A Wake in Providence
A Wake in Providence

USA, 1999. Rated R. 94 minutes.

Cast: Vincent Pagano, Victoria Rowell, Mike Pagano, Adrienne Barbeau, Dan Lauria, Mark DeCarlo, Micole Mercurio, Lisa Raggio, Billy Van Zandt, John Mariano, Jane Milmore, Kaye Kingston, John Capodice
Writers: Vincent Pagano& Mike Pagano; Billy Van Zandt & Jane Milmore
Original Music: Ed Alton
Cinematography: Mark Kohl
Producers: Patrick Coppola, Vincent Pagano, Rosario Roveto Jr., William Redner
Director: Rosario Roveto Jr.


Grade: D+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

B eing Italian-American, I get very grumpy when I watch movies about Italian-Americans. They're so often full of stereotypes—stereotypes that I have rarely in my life actually found in the real world. Unfortunately A Wake in Providence, a film for those people who think My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the greatest comedy of the past ten years, is no exception.

A Wake in Providence is the sort of film wherein a mother, upon seeing her son for the first time since he returns to Providence from the West Coast, smacks him upside the head, grabs his ear, and yells at him to go pay his respects to his dearly departed grandfather—the grandfather whom, mind you, is the reason he's just flown three thousand miles in the first place. That's not the worst part, though. There's sub-humanly stupid cousins Louie (co-writer Billy Van Zandt) and Brunie (John Mariano), who once found a couple thousand dollars in bank envelope, spent the money, and have spent the subsequent four years hiding from an imaginary battalion of angry hit men. And let's not forget the adopted Asian kid who talks as though The Sopranos is the only American television show he's ever seen. Oh, what zaniness!

Vincent Pagano and Victoria Rowell
Anthony (Vincent Pagano) and Alissa (Victoria Rowell) face the firing squad in A Wake in Providence.

Anthony Gelati (Vincent Pagano, who appeared in a recurring role on NBC's Suddenly Susan and has sort of a young Billy Crystal thing going) is a struggling actor who has just landed his first major role in Hollywood—maybe—as Mob Guy #3. (A Wake in Providence opens with the audition, lending hope that the film will fight these stereotypes, but no.) The news about his grandfather's passing arrives, and he reluctantly agrees to take his girlfriend Alissa (Victoria Rowell of CBS's Diagnosis Murder) back east to meet la famiglia.

Trouble is, Alissa is black. (She looks pretty European, though—straight hair and light skin; I guess there's only so far the producers were willing to push things.) The family's reaction when they finally realize she is Anthony's girlfriend (after continually mistaking her for the sister of the only African American they actually know) is horrified shock, as director Rosario Roveto Jr. pans over their faces to the orchestral strains of grandiose operatic tragedy.

How wacky! Racism is always richly comic, isn't it? The family learns Alissa is a paralegal. Does she know Johnny Cochran? (Try to overlook the fact that Cochran is now dead; A Wake in Providence has been justifiably collecting dust on the shelf for six whole years.) Anthony's appalling grandmother, family matriarch Gram Baldassare (Kaye Kingston), is biggest offender and also the biggest caricature in the bunch. Could it be because she's not actually played by an Italian?

In the film's defense, just as it starts to grow so intolerable that you start looking for your coat, it finds ways of disarming you—with a wise cab driver (Mark DeCarlo) and his ditzy but sweet pregnant girlfriend (co-writer Jane Milmore) who rides with him everywhere, a tender moment between Alissa and one of Anthony's family members, or a revelation about cross-dressing (a joke unfortunately then taken way too far). That left me feeling a lot less grumpy at the end than I felt as I was watching, but the film still left a sour taste. Perhaps it's because I haven't had contact with these kinds of Italian Americans, who I guess must exist, or the stereotypes wouldn't exist. Yet I doubt A Wake in Providence will bear much relation to any recognizable reality for most other viewers, either.

Review © April 2005 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2005 Indican Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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