If “Mean Girls” had a strong political component, it might look like “Caterina in the Big City,” an Italian film that covers some of the same ground. This one’s not really a comedy, however.
|Twists: An adolescent girl moves from the country to the city (Rome) in this politically minded variation on “Mean Girls.” Sergio Castellitto is a standout as the girl’s frustrated father. In Italian, with English subtitles.
Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for language, subject matter.
Now showing: Seven Gables.
We begin in small-town Italy, where a schoolteacher and self-styled intellectual (Sergio Castellitto) is happily kissing the rubes good-bye. He has landed a teaching job in Rome, where he’s absolutely certain all his ambitions will come true.
His incredibly patient wife and adolescent daughter are more intimidated. The daughter is Caterina (Alice Teghil), and she’s the film’s main character. Her papa enrolls her in the same school he attended years before – not because she’ll be happy there, but because her class includes the children of academic heavy-hitters he’d like to meet.
At first Caterina feels like a hick, but soon the warring social factions are courting her. This is a school where the goth-geek-hippie kids are shouting left-wing political slogans at the preppie-richie kids, who yell back about the virtues of right-wing president Berlusconi. Just like an American junior high.
Caterina’s father gets excited when she befriends one of the punked-out girls, whose mother happens to be a big book editor. He’s been working on the Great Italian Novel and feels no shame about foisting it off on Caterina’s friend (who promptly cracks the manuscript open and cackles at its overheated prose).
Then Caterina falls in with the privileged crowd, the mean girls. This provides a quick lesson in how the powerful can treat an outsider.
Director Paolo Virzi keeps the movie humming along, wisely blending his interest in politics with the human element. The people remain complicated, not mouthpieces for positions.
Especially good is the father, given a fine performance by Castellitto, who is a major European star (recently seen in “My Mother’s Smile”). He perfectly captures a certain type of frustrated second-rater, the guy who blames his lack of fame and fortune on everybody else’s failings.
Even he gets his moment, when he spots two celebrated political enemies making nice after a heated debate. What’s the last angry man to do when he realizes life isn’t as serious as he thought? The movie’s answer is its final twist, and one of its best.