It’s the night before his restaurant’s lease is up, and Emilio (Nicholas Anscombe) has no plans to renew. Ready to move on, Emilio and his staff stick around post-closing for an all-night party until 9am, when the lease finally runs out. And all is fun and games, except that Emilio’s estranged brother Don (Julian Shaw) has arrived unannounced, and he wants to convince Emilio, and the staff, to renew the lease so he can take the restaurant in a new direction.
Domenico Farelli’s Last Night at Emilio’s is an ensemble dramedy that elicits a laugh here and there, but often feels very scattered. Despite taking place primarily in a single location, the choice of loading the film up with so many characters often undermines the ability to connect or care for any single one. Thus they become almost shadows of people, with only Emilio, restaurant manager Charlie (Victoria Ashford) and Don given much to work with.
This lack of engagement rolls over into the narrative, where it is hard to see any real character growth. Emilio and Charlie distrust Don from the opening, and not much changes. Don plays the “but I’m different” card, but he’s as unconvincing to the audience as he is to everyone else. In other words, you don’t feel any surprises coming with this one.
Which means the film lives or dies depending on how you feel about the comedic banter, or certain individual scenarios. Thus, it’s not an experience of liking a total film as it is enjoying the various parts. And that is the risk of loading a single location with so many characters.
I get the allure of the choice, and the fear that fewer characters would lead to either a shorter film, or a repetitious and boring one, but that very choice points out potential problems with the story; it says the main story can’t sustain itself without the help of numerous subplots, and in this case I really would’ve liked for the main story or core characters to have more meat to them, rather than checking in, again, with the couple who never stop making out. Again, it’s a choice, and if I had found the film more entertaining, perhaps if I laughed more often, then I’d be writing that it was a risk that paid off instead.
It probably sounds like I hated Last Night at Emilio’s, but I honestly didn’t. Again, there were moments I truly enjoyed. Charlie has a particularly fun rant, and the film drops a disturbingly unexpected callback in the final seconds, for two examples. I just don’t think the parts added up to an exceptional whole, and thus it feels like you’re stuck at the restaurant with this group (and you are), only you’d rather be home and in bed, because while there seems to be a lot going on, very little is actually happening.
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