The Hand of God review: A messy, vibrant coming-of-age from Oscar-winning Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino
Everything comes oversized in The Hand of God: the colors, the characters, the gestures. Even its bared nipples (a recurring motif, if you will) loom larger than life. That's probably because the boisterous, big-hearted latest from Oscar-winning Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) is centered on a teenage boy — a stand-in for Sorrentino's own youth in 1980s Naples — though the unassuming Fabietto (Chalamet doppelganger Filippo Scotti) often feels less like the star than a linchpin in a narrative that swings freely between comedy and tragedy, melodrama and memory play.
It's 1984, and Fabie lives with his mother and father and two older siblings in a comfortably cluttered apartment, dreaming of the things most kids his age do: sex, soccer, freedom. His parents are still crazy about each other, even if Saverio (Toni Servillo) can't stay faithful, much to the distress of Maria (Teresa Saponangelo). His affable brother, Marchino (Marlon Joubert) takes him along on acting auditions and sympathizes with his crush on their emotionally troubled aunt Patrizia (Luisa Ranieri), who looks like Venus on the half shell and whose naked sexuality turns even a family lunch into an erotic revelation.
Her penchant for defiant public nudity aside, Fabie and the furious, vulnerable Patrizia begin to form their own kind of tentative friendship. But even more than forbidden relatives, Fabie has a passion for European football, and the prospect that real-life Argentinian superstar Diego Maradona may join Naples' team is almost more excitement than he can stand. (The film's title comes from a legendary World Cup goal once scored by Maradona.) That, and his discovery that he wants to direct his own movies when he grows up, keep him anxiously afloat, until a sudden loss — which would seem like cruel screenwriting if it hadn't actually happened in Sorrentino's own life — upends everything.
There's more than a touch of magical realism in God, with its absurdist set pieces and saturated Technicolor tableaux; a fictionalized brush with Frederico Fellini at an audition feels less like a cameo than a visit from the movie's spirit guide, the benevolent blessing of a maestro. (Though his lone contribution on screen is a brusque dismissal of Marchino's acting prospects.) The movie's tone shifts don't always sit easy; farce and calamity are strange bedfellows, and the episodic plot often doesn't so much connect the dots as let them scatter whimsically across the film's two-hour-plus runtime. There are more cohesive coming-of-age movies to be sure, and subtler ones. But God doesn't really try too hard to make it all make sense; it's just one boy's dolce vita, drenched in Mediterranean sun, hormones, and salt air. Grade: B+
The Hand of God is in limited theaters today and on Netflix Dec. 15.
Oscar-winning Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino helms this coming-of-age story about a boy growing up in 1980s Naples.