“I am disgusted with the way old people are depicted on television. We are not all vibrant, fun-loving sex maniacs. Many of us are bitter, resentful individuals who remember the good old days when entertainment was bland and inoffensive.” –Grampa Simpson
To be sure, Grampa Simpson would be conflicted with “The Salt of Life.” On the one hand, he’d certainly appreciate that Gianni, the recently retired protagonist of the film, is by no means vibrant or fun loving (even if he is lovable), as he’s clearly a bit resentful of and bitter with the natural passing of time. But on the other, one could easily describe Gianni as the kind of ubiquitous “sex maniac” he complains of in the quote above, from a Season 1 episode. Whether Abe would approve or not, though, we found this breezy, but never slight, Italian comedy to be a real treat.
Writer, director and star Gianni Di Gregorio explores similar territory here as he did with his previous feature, “Mid-August Lunch,” itself a hilarious, charming and light comedy (available right now on Netflix Watch Instant) that also features his actual mother in the role she was born to play… his mother (she’s hilarious). What makes “Salt of Life” well worth your time is its honest and funny portrayal of an older man with a bad case of boredom brought on by retirement, but more from his own inaction. There are no jokes to be found at the expense of the elderly, instead Di Gregorio (who co-wrote the excellent crime drama “Gomorrah”) finds humor in the everyday; those small, often petty moments, especially amongst family.
The film is essentially a series of vignettes, all filtered through a couple of days in Gianni’s life. He goes to the store running errands for his wife, he walks his gorgeous neighbor’s dog, hangs with his lawyer buddy trying to pick up women, gabs with his daughter’s aimless boyfriend and more. Parcels of exposition are dispensed, but in a naturlistic style: Gianni’s mother asks why he retired at 50, to which he mentions something about being “forced” in to it. There’s something not quite right about Gianni. He’s a good guy, but clearly unsettled and unhappy, which seems to account for his drinking and general aimlessness. Retirement is not always the dream we hope for, Di Gregorio argues with this film.
He also never lets his character off the hook. Yeah, we feel a little bad for the guy, as he’s a total doormat, allowing all the women in his life to order him around and send him on mundane tasks (“What better does he have to do?” they all argue). But Gianni himself is the root of his malaise. He’s a nice enough fellow, and as played by Di Gregorio, with a stone face reminiscent of Buster Keaton, he’s fun to watch even when he’s being mildly inappropriate to some of the younger women in his purview (it’s certainly no coincidence that most of the film’s cast is made up of comically beautiful, voluptuous young women).
It’s a delicate balance. Where Gianni could come off as whiny and unsympathetic, he instead seems like a real person. “The Salt of Life” thankfully acknowledges a basic truth not often explored in the movies: Old men, even the nice ones, still have blood pumping through their veins. No matter how old you are, the libido often still thrives. What keeps Gianni from being just a creepy old man is that he’s aware of his appearance, and knows how he’s perceived. He truly is a gentleman, even if that’s dated.
Even when the film ventures in to clichéd territory – the drug-induced dénouement and a Viagra mishap – things rarely go where the audience would expect. It’s not about the jokes (though the film is damn funny) so much as the truth that can be gleaned from these moments. Di Gregorio is working quite successfully in the Woody Allen milieu with these last two charming, frothy films. If he continues in this vein we say, ‘hear, hear!’ to more of the same. “Salt of Life” has the right amount of sweet and sour, able to entertain while it candidly explores its characters. Dare we say, it’s a film for adults made by adults, and it’s a great time. [B]