William Shakespeare’s classic romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet has been retold many times on film, most notably in 1961 as a musical with West Side Story, in 1968 with Franco Zeffirelli’s interpretation, and in 1996 with Baz Luhrman’s retelling. In 1996 Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna (the duo was Oscar nominated for writing Love and Other Strangers) took a stab at the great Bard’s tragic tale of the doomed lovers. In their take, Romeo and Juliet takes place in City Island, New York. The warring families are the Cappamezzas and the Malacicis, dueling caterers who must deal with their children falling in love. An all but forgotten comedy, Love Is All There Is is a minor entry in the Shakespearean filmography, done in by a lot of its mighty flaws.
One thing I noticed after watching Love Is All There Is, is just how much it influenced and predicted Nia Vardalos’ 2002 hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Like Vardalos’ script, Taylor and Bologna put together a tale that reveled and depended on ethnic stereotypes, namely Italians and Italian-Americans (specifically New Yorkers). The cast is crammed with character actors all of whom played either Greeks, Italians, Jews, or any combination of the three. Bologna stars with Lainie Kazan as the earthier Capomezzos. Kazan is the soulful and lusty Sadie (does Kazan play any other types of women aside from soulful and lusty?). She’s a superstitious woman who consults the local psychic (a loopy Taylor) to help her dormant sex life. Along with her work, Sadie’s life revolves around her genial son, Rosario (Nathanial Marston). Rosario, the scion to the Capomezzos catering empire, is playing Romeo in a local amateur production of Romeo and Juliet.
Paul Sorvino and Barbara Carrera play the snooty Malacicis, a Florentine couple who muscle in on the Capomezzos catering turf. When the local Juliet breaks her legs in a hapless accident during rehearsal, their lovely daughter Gina (Angelina Jolie, in an early role) steps in and soon Rosario and Gina fall in love. Predictably their union causes much pain and drama among their parents, who see the union as treacherous to their respective families.
Surprisingly faithful to Shakespeare’s work, if one is familiar with Romeo and Juliet, the the plot will be easy to predict. And even if one has been able to avoid the plot of Romeo and Juliet, rom-coms like Love Is All There Is are pretty easy to figure out: both Gina and Rosario will fall in love, but will face obstacles. And in the end, just as the families of Romeo and Juliet did, the Capomezzos and the Malacicis learn a lesson about love and tolerance.
Taylor and Bologna are a great duo – funny and talented, but they’re not the most skillful screenwriters. The skeleton of the script is good, but the duo would benefit from a strong script doctor to reign in the Borscht belt impulses of the couple. It’s easy to see that the film was supposed to be a Woody Allen-lite, Moonstruck type of film, but it got lost along the way in the explosive gaudiness of the film.
And poor Lainie Kazan. Kitted in her standard uniform of clashing colors and warring patterns, she plays Sadie Capomezzo like she plays every other character she’s ever played. It’s a shame because though she’s a limited actress, she’s an appealing comedienne, and her presence does manage to scratch through some of the hoary cliches and stereotypes that Taylor and Bologna fling at their cast. In her quieter moments, Kazan shows she’s up to the challenge of being subtle (or at least subtler), especially when she has a heart-to-heart with a parish priest about her fears of losing her identity once her smothered son leaves the nest.
The boisterous cast also includes a pre-View Joy Behar as a family friend, Abe Vigoda, Dick Van Patton, Connie Stevens, and William Hickey. Any direction from Taylor and Bologna seems minimal, as in it feels sometimes as if they just pointed a camera at the actors and shouted, “Go bigger! Be louder!” It’s Sorvino who gives the most memorable performance (faint praise, though) – his daffy, blustery turn feels improvised a lot of the time, especially when his Piero Malacici struggles with his English and his tortured American idioms (it almost feels as if he stepped out of a Christopher Guest film and wandered onto the set of The Nanny).
And Jolie? The sole actor in this group that would reach superstardom? How does she play the ingenue? She’s decent. The actress struggles with her Italian accent, and the script demands an elasticity of the character that Jolie couldn’t successfully sell. Initially a doe-eyed gamine, she turns into a harsh-voiced harridan, before devolving into a blubbering mess. It feels as if the producers knew that Jolie had star power because she got special billing (“and introducing Angeline Jolie”) but little of her performance her warrants any predictions of megastardom.
Love Is All There Is is the last writing credit for Taylor, who would go on to greater fame and acclaim as a scene-stealing character actress (a highlight was her Emmy-nominated work as Fran Drescher’s mom on The Nanny). Bologna as a screenwriter has been dormant for a long time, only now soon to release a new film Tango Shalom which will reunite him with Kazan. It’s not a big mystery why both writers haven’t been prolific – Love Is All There Is is largely forgotten, only a minor footnote, an interest only because of its early appearance of Jolie. I won’t go as far as saying that it’s a hidden classic – it’s far too ridiculous – but it does deserve some viewing, particularly on a Sunday afternoon on a basic cable channel.