For the hero of this bittersweet Italian comedy, love means never having to tell your pregnant girlfriend you're secretly infatuated with an 18-year-old student. Nick Hornby readers will instantly recognise Carlo (Stefano Accorsi), a nearly-thirtysomething who gets cold feet at the prospect of impending parenthood and goes hunting for one last conquest. But familiarity does not breed contempt in a good-looking movie that takes a perceptive and often caustic look at the agonies and ecstasies of modern relationships.
At first glance, Carlo has it all: a beautiful partner, good friends, and a great career in advertising. But when Giulia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) announces she has a bun in the oven, her feckless beau starts wondering if he's ready to settle down. It doesn't help that his pals are about to flee their own responsibilities by buying a camper van and running off to Africa - a proposition almost as tempting as the beautiful teenager Francesca (Martina Stella).
"CONVINCING DISPLAY OF RAW EMOTION"
Carlo's premature midlife crisis is mirrored by Giulia's mum Anna (Stefania Sandrelli), who reacts to the news that she's to become a grandmother by leaving her dull hubby and igniting an old flame. Only in Italy would infidelity be a remedy for marital disharmony. But it's to writer/director Gabriele Muccino's credit that the status quo is not restored without a convincing display of raw emotion and fiery Mediterranean temperament - Mezzogiorno proving that hell hath no fury like an expectant mother scorned.
Muccino's prowling, restless camera and insistence on underscoring every scene with lush mood music are annoying embellishments, and he could have tied up the various plot strands with less indulgence. Still, this is an intelligent and dark-edged romantic comedy that offers a bracing antidote to Love Actually's treacly sentiment.
In Italian with English subtitles.