Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Anne Bancroft 1931-2005 

Yes, yes, she was Mrs. Robinson, coo coo ca choo and all that. But in my family's house, Anne Bancroft will always be remembered best as Antoinette, sister of Dominick DiNapoli, in the 1980 comedy Fatso. It's a movie so ingrained in three generations of my family for the last 25 years that I simply cannot write about it objectively. I'm just too close to it.

In addition to co-starring, Bancroft also wrote and directed this simple story about Dominick (played by Dom DeLuise), an overweight Italian-American New Yorker who confronts the fact that he's at serious risk of dying of obesity if he doesn't give up his beloved sausage and pepper sandwiches, chocolate eclairs, and all that other good, rich Italian food. There's a love story along the way, too, but the best bits in the film are the interactions between Dominick and his family and friends, all of whom go to great lengths to get him to stop eating too much. The inevitable hilarity ensues, and the film is awash in memorable scenes, quotable dialogue, and classic Italian-American themes like food, family, passion, and guilt.

I don't think critical response to the film at the time of its release was too positive, and the fact that Bancroft died before Fatso hit stores on DVD attests to its status as a somewhat forgotten little movie. I'll admit, too, that I haven't seen it since sometime in the mid-'90s, so the mists of time may be coloring my memory in a positive way, but I think only slightly so. This is a far better than average comedy, and it is surely one of the best and most realistic films about the common (read: "non-gangster") Italian-American experience ever made. Ms. Bancroft's only stab at writing and directing a feature outshined everything her husband Mel Brooks did on film since (that's including History Of The World, Part I, and don't even talk to me about Spaceballs). Suffice it to say that you should watch this film if you or someone you love is Italian-American, if you or someone you care about has ever struggled with their weight, or if you or anyone you've ever met in your life has ever eaten a cannoli.

Righting a longstanding wrong, Fatso will be released on DVD on July 12. It's terribly sad that Anne Bancroft did not live to experience that moment.

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