*** (out of five)
Perfect Strangers, from Paolo Genovese, is one of those European romps that all take place in a single contemporary location – mainly around a table – and involve a lot of dialogue being spoken by locally popular actors that is sort of witty, somewhat sexy and potentially ponderous. The French and Italians both make this kind of film and, if successful, it’s a great business model. If not, it’s stagey and cheap.
Perfect Strangers – set in Rome among the genre’s typically upper-middle-class, forward-thinking modern bourgeoisie – just sits on the right side of the equation. It pulls off its decidedly tricky and potentially gimmicky premise through a better-than-average script, fluid direction that keeps a single set visually interesting, and most importantly, an excellent ensemble who all play the rather ridiculous situation straight.
That situation is this: at a dinner party for seven old friends, one of them suggests, as a sort of truth game, that they all surrender their mobile phones to the centre of the table for the night, and that all of their text messages and emails are revealed and their phone conversations had on speaker-phone in front of the others. Naturally – this is hardly a spoiler – secrets are revealed and they all realise they didn’t know each other as well as they thought they did.
This is a ludicrous concept, of course, but what high-concept isn’t? It skates by on very professional performances and a smattering of revelations that manage to subvert our expectations by about ten percent. It worked massively on the large (quite mature) audience I saw it with, who gasped, giggled, ooooed and aaaahed at each new twist. It’s an amiable ninety-six minutes that won’t change your life, as much as it would love you to hurl your mobile device into traffic upon leaving the cinema.