Simone Godano follows up An Almost Ordinary Summer (2019), a comedy about adult children whose fathers come out and fall in love late in life, with another socially minded romantic comedy in Marilyn’s Eyes, about a middle-aged man and woman who find connection through a mental health program.
Diego (Stefano Accorsi) is a chef who suffers a nervous breakdown and is sent to group therapy at a disabled day center, where he meets Clara (Miriam Leone), an aspiring actress and pathological liar whose own journey of mental health treatment is about to wrap up. Their group is made up of others with a variety of cases, including a woman with Tourettes, a mute roller-skater, a paranoid man, and more. The program director, looking to inspire more collaboration and cooperation among the patients, instructs the group to form a sort of restaurant – giving Diego a leadership role from his professional skill set, and creating a structure that requires teamwork and camaraderie to see through.
Clara taps into her own area of expertise of fantasy, and builds out the faux-restaurant into something real, staging photos and writing phony online reviews to build branding and generate buzz for their venture, which she’s named Monroe, after Marilyn. She’s inflated its reputation so much that they decide to go for it and open for real. When customers visit, they notice the restaurant experience – run by the patients in therapy – feels a little different, which Clara explains away as part of performance art, a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
Beyond her namesake, Marilyn Monroe’s presence in the film contributes to the elements of image and performance. When discussing Monroe, Diego and Clara disagree on her appearance – Diego says that her eyes are green, while Clara insists her eyes are black (inspiring the film’s Italian title – Marilyn ha gli occhi neri, literally “Marilyn has the black eyes”). A rendition of Monroe’s performance of “I Wanna Be Loved by You” is sung by Clara (donning a wig and costume costume) and Diego at the restaurant, entertaining the clientele. And of course the song is from Some Like It Hot, a film very much about artifice, swapping roles, and deception.
As a romantic comedy about two individuals, struggling with mental illness, whose collaborate effort helps them grow closer together and heal in the process, it’s hard not to think of the American film Silver Linings Playbook. In fact, two songs from that movie’s soundtrack (“Monster Mash” by CrabCorps and “Always Alright” by Alabama Shakes) are also featured in Marilyn’s Eyes, which could be a wild coincidence or perhaps a direct nod to a film with similar subject matter.
Following his charming and complicated An Almost Ordinary Summer, director Simone Godano continues working in comedies with complex subject matter. At times though, it feels as those most impacted – the patient with Tourettes, and others whose conditions are deeply challenging – are the punchline of jokes, and at worst are tools to be used by the more dominant of the group, Clara and Diego. While the two aren’t necessarily cruel or causing harm, they take advantage of their positions within the group therapy setting to serve their own self-interest, of Diego to reunite with his daughter and of Clara to turn her fantasy into reality.
Marilyn’s Eyes does shine a spotlight on difficult material with characters going through hard times, but it still marginalizes others whose circumstances are possibly more challenging. There are occasional moments that are genuinely touching, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark as a socially conscious comedy.