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The Micelli family has just been uprooted by a move for dad's job, and he’s already working long, hard hours towards the Next Big Promotion. Mom wants to spend more time with the man she obviously loves and is growing weary of being a pseudo single mom. Guitar-toting teen son Bobby has buddied up and formed a rock band with two guys of questionable character, and is becoming more rebellious by the minute. Younger daughter Gina is in a constant twist over Dad’s refusal to let her have a puppy and responds by spending long hours at her friend’s house.
Bickering, back talking and barbs are the standard modes of communication. Everyone wants to be anywhere but home, and no one knows how to get to a better place. Maybe a better “place” will come to them. ...
Enter Uncle Nino from Italy, who’s decided it’s time to meet his nephew's family in America. He dashes off a letter to the Micellis and arrives in Illinois three weeks later. Except his unopened letter is buried in Dad’s briefcase, en route to yet another out-of-town meeting.
The Alitalia plane touches down anyways, rapidly headed towards a collision of cultures. But the contemporary, dysfunctional Micelli family makes room in their hectic home—and eventually their hearts—for their traditional, gregarious, “crazy” Uncle Nino. They’ll need more than an Italian-American dictionary to sort out their differences and learn to communicate in the timeless language of love.
Nearly all of the negatives in this film (detailed below) are eventually turned around and countered with positives, usually by means of reflection and/or repentance. Uncle Nino serves as a role model for the entire family. When he makes a mistake—and he makes some pretty big ones—he’s quick to take responsibility, seek forgiveness and offer restitution (sometimes in the form of promising to go away). He seeks and finds a common bond with everyone: music with Bobby, dogs with Gina, food (and wine) with Marie, and an Italian family heritage with Robert.
Marie is incredibly long-suffering and gracious towards Robert over his frequent bad moods, angry blowups and long periods away from home. With the exception of a few sighs and restrained complaints (“Are you going to be in a bad mood every day?”) she sets aside her loneliness and responds (however late at night he gets home) with love and forgiveness.
It's shown that Robert’s stress is poisoning his marriage and family life. The frantic pace he’s set for himself as he strives for the ultimate promotion results in a bevy of clichéd ills that often befall those engaged in an upwardly mobile American life. Absentee dad plus multi-tasking mother equals neglected kids and one big broken family. Robert does realize before it’s too late (thanks to Uncle Nino) that his family, not his job, matters most in life. And when he does, he acts immediately by taking a long-needed vacation to get reacquainted with his loved ones.
In a reconciliation scene, Robert admits to Bobby that he’s made a lot of mistakes and will make more, but assures him that he’s done everything out of love for the family. Bobby responds by confessing a lie he told and telling his dad he loves him too.
Nino has some surprise baggage of his own, which he confesses to Robert after a long-awaited trip to the cemetery to visit the grave of his brother (Robert’s dad) and sister-in-law. After unloading a lifetime of guilt over their estranged relationship, Robert gives Nino the priceless gifts of forgiveness, understanding and purpose, sealed with a hug.
Looking up to the bright morning sky, Nino lifts his hands and says aloud, “Many thanks for this beautiful day.” He puts his hands together in a gesture of praying when beseeching Bones, one of Bobby's pals, to give up smoking, a gesture Bones later reflects back to Nino in affirmation of his tobacco-free resolution.
Crude or Profane Language
Mild language occasionally roughs up this mostly family-friendly film, often served up as punk-tuation marks by Bobby, Bones and their friend Joey. Verbal sparring turns ugly and includes the words “d--khead” and “p---mouth” when the freshmen trio clash with a rival group of upperclassmen over an upcoming high school battle of the bands. “Moron,” “sucks,” “crap” and “screwed” are some of the boys’ favorite descriptors. Meanwhile, Robert uses “d--n” and “h---” in an angry lecture to Bobby, and a surly neighbor says “h---.” The ladies of the family stick to milder stuff like “gosh” (Gina) and “criminy” (Marie).
Drug and Alcohol Content
Bones is a chain-smoking 14-year-old (and the dirty butts he indiscriminately leaves behind are a constant source of contention), but Nino convinces him to quit before the movie’s end.
Uncle Nino bottles homemade wine in Italy and packs a few samples for his trip. During their first hurried meal together, Nino and Marie quickly exchange glasses of her cheap boxed wine for his handcrafted varietal. (It's lesson number one in slowing down and savoring life’s “finer” things.) Nino is seen drinking several times more as the story progresses; Marie sips wine while cooking dinner. In different instances, Nino offers to share vino with a neighbor and Robert, but both refuse. Marie sets up a bottle of champagne on ice in anticipation of a romantic evening that never materializes, and the bubbly is left unopened.
Other Negative Elements
At the film’s opening, Bobby is on the verge of delinquency. Angry over the family move and his parents’ neglect, he’s vulnerable to the negative influence of fast friends Bones and Joey. The three TP a neighbor’s house. Bad-boy leader Bones, bedecked in piercings and spikes, also lights a firecracker on his porch. Dads are referred to as “old men.” Bobby (who “only” sports one piercing) seethes with attitude, disrespecting Robert by lying, back talking and exclaiming, “I hate this place!” Bobby usually tunes out his sorrows (and his parents’ admonitions) with loud guitar playing.
Gina is relentless in her pursuit of a puppy; her behavior borders on disrespect as she uses every opportunity to badger her parents for one. Failing, she turns to Uncle Nino and persuades him to buy her the puppy of her dreams behind her parents' backs. When an angry Robert threatens to return the pup to the pet store, Gina screams, “I hate you! I hate you!” and storms out of the room.
Surveying his newly TPed yard, a neighbor calls Bobby and his friends “punks” (and uses that term when discussing the boys with Robert) and regularly transfers cigarette butts from his lawn to the Micelli’s, falsely believing Bobby is one of the offenders. In a final showdown with this neighbor, Robert threatens to send Uncle Nino over with his rototiller.
When Marie tells a co-worker (it appears that she works at an upscale boutique) about Robert’s increasingly long absences and wishes for a normal ”9-to-5, dinner together” kind of family, the woman disses the entire male population by saying, “Oh, I know what you mean, but good luck getting a man to know what you mean.”
Dear Uncle Nino is a breath of fresh Italian air. He's quite a card, too. He innocently stumbles into trouble from the moment he accidentally walks into the women’s restroom at the airport. From there, he unknowingly “vandalizes” a subdivision flower bed (to present a bouquet to Marie) and rototills the Micelli’s front yard (thinking he and Robert share the same understanding of the word “garden”).
Doubtless there’ll be viewers and reviewers who will label this film sappy, underdeveloped and shallow, and place it on the made-for-TV shelf without giving it a second cynical thought. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. And what’s more amazing is that my 14-year-old, video game loving, action-fantasy aficionado son loved it too. Best yet, we bonded over it. How many blockbuster movies can offer that treasure?
Uncle Nino’s ageless message shines as a beacon of hope for families everywhere: It’s never too late to mend broken relationships, and the most potent healers are love and forgiveness. There’s nothing magic about this charming old man who enters into the fray of a chaotic home. He stops everyone in their tracks, not by wowing them with his wisdom, but by simply oozing old-world charm, humility and solid family values.
Perhaps what is magic is the mirror Uncle Nino holds up to the face of the American family. Most of us will relate to someone in the Micelli family. And what we see in that mirror may cause us to squirm a bit ... until we remember that we can make choices today that paint a brighter picture for tomorrow. If you look closely enough, your heart may just begin to overflow with the same joy and zest for life experienced here by a simple old man in love with his family and his garden.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Joe Montegna as Robert Micelli; Anne Archer as Marie Micelli; Trevor Morgan as Bobby Micelli; Pierrino Mascarino as Uncle Nino; Duke Doyle as Bones; Daniel Adebayo as Joey
Robert Shallcross ( )