If Italians have the same attitude toward mental illness as people of Spanish descent, Cubans particularly, then I can understand how parts of Like Crazy will grate. This comedy about two women who escape from an institution to reclaim the lives they lost has wackiness to spare, a determination to force squirms out of its audiences. It has its amusements, especially when Bruni Tedeschi is onscreen.
As Beatrice, an aristocrat who clings to her airs, Tedeschi is in charge from her first major scene as she convinces a new patient Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti) that she’s a psychiatrist at Villa Biondi — a pretty good impersonation, as of course it would be, for Beatrice has the confidence of a person unaccustomed to resistance or battle ramming through it. Donatella is a stark contrast: a withdrawn brunette covered, to Beatrice’s disgust, in tattoos. Writer-director Paolo Virzi keeps shifting points of view so that the audience doesn’t get too comfortable with either character when she’s at her most absurd, for example when Beatrice swoons over the visiting parish priest (“African but sexy!”) At a retreat to a nursery, Beatrice convinces her new friend to make a break for it.
“We’re looking for some happiness. In nice places with linen tablecloths and good wine in glasses,” she demands. They hit a mall (Beatrice: “What lousy stores — Italy really is in decline”); a chic restaurant once patronized by Beatrice and her husband, where after liquor and shellfish but no cash or credit cards to cover the check Beatrice’s persuasive fail her, as does her attempt to steal a valeted car; the club where Donatella’s boyfriend works. Meanwhile the Biondi staff is never far behind.
Yet she succeeds more often than not. Tedeschi wields her scratchy, high voice like an épée. A talented farceur, Virzi keeps Like Crazy bumping along like a vehicle ascending a mountainside. At times his staging is predictable: the other patients at Biondi look and act like castoffs from other movies about people in institutions. Not One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, though — think The Dream Team, and without the yuks. And while Virzi eschews the temptation to equate insanity with liberty, we do suffer through a brief sequence in which after stealing a convertible from a commercial Beatrice sits up on the seat, waving her arm, while the soundtrack soars. Freedom means freedom for everyone, Dick Cheney once instructed us. Worse is the reveal in the last act when the audience learns why Donatella was charged with infanticide: shooting these scenes too lyrically is a danger, and Virzi steps into the snare.
Still, within its modest confines Like Crazy works. An American studio film covering the same terrain would emphasize the madcap or get leaden with the solemnity. The last scene suggests Beatrice is ready to resume the game.