With a certain Greek-flavored comedy having soared past the $200 million mark at the box office, we can expect a lot of big fat movies in its tailwind. And the first to launch itself skyward is The Bread, My Sweet, a skinny little movie that hopes to put on weight by emphasizing its ethnicity and its belief in marriage as the social glue that holds families, not to mention entire immigrant cultures, together. A sitcom that garners big laughs off ethnic stereotypes, My Big Fat Greek Wedding combines "The Ugly Duckling" and "Cinderella" into the feel-good movie of the year. But The Bread, My Sweet, for better or worse, doesn't have that kind of fairy-tale heft. Set in the Italian section of contemporary Pittsburgh ' and filmed in a bakery run by the director's husband ' it's a romantic comedy/drama about people who happen to be Italians, not Italians who happen to be people. Call it My Medium-Sized Italian Wedding.
Scott Baio, having left Richie and Joanie and the Fonz behind, is Dominic, a corporate raider who basically fires people for a living. Unlike Big Fat's Toula, Dominic is a "success" when the movie opens, but his heart ' what's left of it, anyway ' isn't really in mergers and acquisitions. It's in the Italian bakery he owns and works at with his two brothers, Eddie (Billy Mott) and Pino (Shuler Hensley). And it's in the apartment over the bakery, which is inhabited by Bella (Rosemary Prinz) and Massimo (John Seitz), an elderly couple who've been married for 40 years and bickering for at least 39. Without parents of his own, Dominic has adopted the folks upstairs, who speak English so broken there may be no putting it back together. "No come back no more," Massimo tells Dominic during one of their many disagreements. "Me no like you." Translation: "I love you as if you were my own son."
Gruff as a billy goat, Massimo is a familiar comic invention, but Bella, whom Prinz endows with equal parts strength and sweetness, is another matter. She's a veritable life force who happens to be running out of life, a plot twist that leads to Dominic asking for her daughter's hand in marriage, despite never having met her. Lucca (Kristin Minter) doesn't show up until halfway through The Bread, My Sweet, and we're never quite sure where she's been or why she left, but Dominic has appointed himself head of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and Bella's literally been saving up for Lucca's wedding since the day her prodigal daughter was born. Now all Dominic has to do is convince Lucca, which he does in a scene that's admirable for the restraint it shows toward our heartstrings. Writer-director Melissa Martin, a Pittsburgh playwright, knows it doesn't take a ton of bricks, it takes a bite of biscotti.
The Bread, My Sweet isn't a perfect little movie. Baio is good, not great, as Dominic ' John Cusack, only without the longing that Cusack never quite hides behind his eyes. And the script sometimes slides past sentiment into sentimentality. And into platitudes: "Life is like a cookie, fragile and sweet," someone says. (Hey, I thought it was like a box of chocolates!) But Martin has marshaled her resources, such as they were, and the result is a pleasant hour and a half spent among people who aren't ethnic cartoons. I could have done without the learning-challenged brother, not because he's learning-challenged but because he's exactly like every other learning-challenged brother we've ever seen in movies. But the main characters aren't quite like characters we've seen before. Stuck between the Old World and the new, they're just different enough to make a difference.