Italian Film Festival 2014 - Chicago: 'Escort in Love'

Escort in Love plays it too safe, but lead actress Paola Cortellesi comes out on top.

Escort in Love ((Nessuno mi può giudicare)

Director: Massimiliano Bruno
Cast: Paola Cortellesi, Anna Foglietta, Rocco Papaleo, Raoul Bova
Year: 2014

A newly broke mom turns to the world’s oldest profession to repay her deceased husband’s debts in this light-hearted story of a damsel in a tiny black dress.

At 33, the last thing Alice (Paola Cortellesi) thought she’d be doing is moving her nine-year-old son out of their beautiful Roman villa and into the ramshackle “roof pad” of an apartment block in a multiethnic slum. Tasked with recouping thousands in owed debts, she contacts a friend working as an escort (Anna Foglietta) and asks for her help to break into the very lucrative business.

Escort in Love is Italian screenwriter Massimiliano Bruno’s directorial debut, and it functions as a sort of proof of concept for his merit as a filmmaker. He’s testing the waters. Most everything about this film is steeped in formulaicism (just take a look at the official poster, which is a nightmare resurfaced from the '90s), but Bruno’s barbed, playfully offensive sense of humor saves his debut from drowning in cliché, if just barely.

From Alice’s casual bigotry early on to the initial contempt her new neighbors have for her as a rich snob, Bruno approaches prejudice as something everyone contributes to in some way. He’s content on exposing – and drawing laughs from – homophobia and racism, but avoids offending any particular group by making fun of everyone indiscriminately (although he does occasionally go too far with a cruelly racist character played by Rocco Papaleo).

Bruno has a similarly mature outlook when it comes to Alice’s new lifestyle. It could be easy to mistake his nonchalance for approval when it comes to the broad comedy struck from her risky sexual escapades. There’s almost no sex in the film, instead only showing us the humorous run-ins she has with her new clientele.

The film is sugarcoating Alice’s new career choice a bit, but it isn’t asking you to approve of it. Instead, Bruno is suggesting that it doesn’t matter whether we approve of her actions or not, so long as she is comfortable with them.

Forget the central arc; that is, Alice’s adjustment to her new lifestyle and subsequent discovery of an unlikely love interest (Raoul Bova), that’s all social class comedy we’ve seen before, it’s lightweight, light impact. The real charm of Escort in Love comes in the recurring comedy bits and the winning lead performance from Cortellesi, who won the David di Donatello for Best Actress in this role.

Playing an uptight housewife forced to cut loose (and then some) as a high-end escort, Cortellesi has a great barometer for bringing both sex appeal and hilarious, crippling awkwardness to the role. While very attractive, she’s just not cut out for the art of seduction. A montage of her first round of suitors – from a man that wants to role-play as Batman to a masochist intent on being humiliated – is universally funny enough to kick off remake talks all around the world.

However, there’s no real visual distinction to Escort in Love, leaving aesthetic identity a clear next step for the director. He also needs to confidently step out of this overly safe rom-com space if he hopes to create a lasting piece free of the incessant cheesiness that bogs down the well-functioning components. Its presence in film festivals is proof enough, though, that there’s something interesting going on here, but it takes some work to separate the bold from the boilerplate.

Bruno may be a sappy, overly hopeful guy, but his first film is a trashy, feel good time that may go unseen by English-speaking audiences until a well-known American director remakes it. Now, who has Paul Feig’s number?

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