Paolo Genovese’s Perfect Strangers is the film equivalent of a rich Italian lasagne; a delectable mixture of piping hot performances, tasty flavours and multiple layers of character-driven drama pressing them together.
This hilarious comedy sees three married couples and a bachelor, all long-time friends, get together for a sumptuous dinner party. As the night winds on, one of them suggests that they play a game to test their trust in one another; each person is required to place their smartphone in front of them on the dinner table. For the entire night, any phone calls and text messages that arrive must be shared publicly with the group, to prove that they have absolutely nothing to hide. Of course, not everyone sitting at the table is squeaky clean and it soon becomes clear that the seven friends didn’t know each other quite as well as they originally thought.
Perfect Strangers’ strongest element is undoubtedly its award-winning screenplay; perfectly paced and overflowing with razor-sharp dialogue, we’re gently introduced to each character before being teased with secrets that they may or may not be harbouring. Amongst others you have Cosimo (Edoardo Leo) and Eva (Alba Rohrwacher), the passionate newlyweds still brimming with doe-eyes and cheeky kisses; or Carlotta (Anna Foglietta) and Lele (Valerio Mastandrea), the grumpy slightly older couple for whom the honeymoon has well and truly ended.
After this slow-burn first half, the surprises land hard and fast, like a chain of dominoes that speed around the dinner table. It’s an impressive build towards a series of twists that subvert expectations without feeling implausible. Most impressive is Genovese’s ability to traverse both earnest sentiment and crushing pathos in this tricky second half; he certainly doesn’t skimp on the gut-wrenching emotion, but underneath it all is a unifying message of friendship, acceptance and understanding in a thought-provoking final scene that ties everything together.
Perfect Strangers forms part of the 2016 Lavazza Italian Film Festival. It premieres on opening night, September 22, at Cinema Paradiso.