Review by Sean Boelman
Like so many films adapted from plays, Emma Dante’s The Macaluso Sisters struggles to make something cinematic out of its theatrical origins. Although the story is pretty compelling, and the performances are strong, the uneven execution makes this movie feel too slight for it to connect as it should.
Set in two time periods, the film tells the story of five sisters whose lives are torn apart by a tragic accident. The first half of the movie is a sentimental (if somewhat standard) portrait of five children making the most of their situation despite the odds being against them, before the second half turns into something much more sorrowful.
The fundamental flaw of so many films that follow the same characters over two time periods is that there is generally one portion which is far more compelling than the other. In this case, it is the first half, which shows a lot of potential, only for the latter portion to fumble its potentially resonant themes.
The screenplay, adapted by Giorgio Vasta and Elena Stancanelli from Dante’s own play, has something to say about grief and guilt. The idea of coping with one’s trauma at a point after it is far too late will certainly ring true to a lot of viewers, but the way in which the movie explores these ideas is so much of a downer.
We get to know the characters when they are children, and this is what will connect the audience emotionally to the story. However, the portion of the film when the sisters are adults feels somewhat cold, likely because the thing that hooks the viewer is the dynamic between them and we are watching that broken in the later portion.
All five actresses that play the younger versions of the characters are exceptional. The energy that they each bring to their roles is infectious and draws us into the summertime setting. The work done by the older actresses is perhaps more subtle, but it doesn’t connect as well because of this portion of the script’s shortcomings.
There is definitely some great cinematography in the movie by Gherardo Gossi, especially during the first forty minutes. A scene of the sisters dancing on the beach is maybe one of the most magical of the year so far, but there are also plenty of gorgeous compositions throughout the entire film.
The Macaluso Sisters starts very strong but ultimately fumbles its ending. While there are definitely enough good things about this to recommend it, a bit more dynamism could have helped it to be more resonant.
The Macaluso Sisters is now in theaters.