Director: Mattia De Pascali
Writer: Mattia De Pascali
Starring: Andrea Canaiello, Nik Manzi, Donatella Reverchon, Oscar Stajano, Sereno Toma
A modern-day tragedy loosely based on Macbeth where the main character wants to conquer a fast-food restaurant chain instead of the Kingdom of Scotland.
The synopsis of the film clearly states that this is a contemporary take of a Shakespearean classic and one would further assume, indeed I did, that this would be framed around a contemporary fast food joint, resulting perhaps in something like the American films WAITING (2005) crossed with THE FOUNDER (2016).
However MCBETTER plays more like a dynastic family struggle; a struggle for power and wealth with events unfolding within the mansion of a wealthy business man, Joe McBetter. The stakes though are for much more than just the future of the fast-food empire. De Pascali chooses to open the film with a televised mystic, a modern day witch if you will, providing encouragement to the portly figure of Malcom (Andrea Cananiello), a man who looks like a cross between Ron Jeremy and Joe Spinelli, and she tells our visually unlikely hero that his doubts are nothing and that he is the master of his own destiny. It is up to him to seize it.
Soon we learn that this is not strictly true as it is his girlfriend, Melanie (Serena Toma), who is really calling the shots. And as our power duo set off on a couples trip to her family home we start to grasp the extent of their duplicitous plans in which Melanie’s estranged father, the eponymous McBetter, is the key.
Much like Macbeth we are taken on a tale in which there are plans to usurp a king, to take and create a dynasty and the dangers of ambition but there is so much more in play here. From the quirky off-beat business idea of Malcom to the familial struggles of Melanie, MCBETTER works its black comedy into what at its heart is a much darker story…and it is all the better for it.
Throw in a doddering old housemaid, a young vivacious step-mother and her son, aptly named Little Joe, and you also have the recipe for a dysfunctional family drama in which talking solves nothing forcing our scheming duo into more drastic action. But they aren’t the only ones who are willing to go to such lengths.
By keeping the tone relatively consistent through his script Mattia De Pascali gives himself the leeway to experiment with visual styles (some of the lighting is positively Mario Bava or Dario Argento-esque) and tones as required by whichever strand of the story the narrative is following. While at just over one hour ten minutes long the film is perfect length, not once overstaying its welcome.
There are plenty of influences competing inside of MCBETTER but thankfully none of them overpower or unbalance the final project and as debuts go Mattia De Pascali has made a darkly comic tale which takes the themes of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and updates it with some Wes Anderson (RUSHMORE; THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS; ISLE OF DOGS) sensibilities and Italian style.
Thanks to decent performances, strong direction and varied cinematography MCBETTER is an accomplished debut that is worthy of your time, but this is hardly surprising considering it features a supporting crew that includes David Bracci, Lucio Massa and Giulio Ciancamerla – all names who are growing in stature in the independent Italian scene.
Despite all of this I do worry that MCBETTER will be resigned to playing only a few festivals outside of its home country as has happened with many independent Italian films before BUT if it can get exposure I know it will find a fanbase, if in all likelihood only a small one.
However if you like quirky dark comedies, fancy taking a risk (check out the trailer below) and don’t mind ordering from (mainland) Europe then you will be able to pick up the film on DVD and Blu-ray in November as it gains a release from Home Movies.
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