When informed about a movie made in Pittsburgh with the odd title “The Bread, My Sweet” that stars Scott Baio (yes, the one-time Chachi of “Happy Days”), my initial reaction was a low moan followed by a dumb giggle. I was ready to get out my carving knife and make breadcrumbs over something which sounded so terribly unappetizing.
Well, I am happy to report that I was 100% wrong. “The Bread, My Sweet” is one of the most charming and serene films currently tiptoeing its way through a very limited theatrical release. This tale of colliding cultures between Old World immigrants and second generation Americans may strike some as being on the level as My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But in truth, “The Bread, My Sweet” is so intelligent, warm and genuinely sincere that it makes Greek Wedding look like a piece of feral junk.
Scott Baio (who is 41 years old now, if you can believe it) plays Dominic Pyzola, an Italian-American caught in two wildly different worlds: the shark-attack sphere of corporate skullduggery, where he casually fires slow-to-please underlings while slashing away at the competition, and his family’s bakery, where he spends his pre-dawn hours helping his two less-than-capable brothers (one is an aspiring actor and the other is mentally-challenged) preparing the pastries and breads that the shoppers in Pittsburgh’s Italian-heavy Strip Section have come to love. Upstairs from the bakery lives Bella (Broadway star Rosemary Prinz in her first film performance), an elderly Italian immigrant who has been something of a surrogate mother to Dominic and his brothers. Bella’s health is failing and a diagnosis of terminal cancer leaves her with a maximum of six remaining months. Her one remaining wish is to see her prodigal daughter Lucca, who has been long absent doing Peace Corps work. Dominic, wanting to give Bella a last round of happiness, resolves to create a pretend marriage with Lucca until Bella passes away.
While clearly wearing its heart blatantly on its sleeve, “The Bread, My Sweet” never succumbs to sticky-moist sentiment. Writer-director Melissa Martin has created a gallery of genuinely real characters who uneasily shoulder their home-grown flaws and disappointments while trying to make their world a somewhat happier place to live. And unlike films such as “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “The Bread, My Sweet” holds the Old World traditions in genuine respect without trying to milk cheap laughs from accent-heavy comedy or Old World/New World clashes. Much of the success here comes from Rosemary Prinz’ wonderfully warm and moving portrayal of the dying Bella, whose English might be shaky but who is never turned into a laughing-stock ethnic for garbling the language.
The real surprise here, of course, is Scott Baio. Forget (if you can) his sitcom past and enjoy a deep, rich performance here. Baio perfectly captures the anguish and anxieties of a man being pulled in multiple directions and by different expectations. Whether living the role of a Fortune 500 a*****e or speaking with serene understanding among his problematic brothers, Baio invests the role with an emotional versatility that has never been seen in any of his previous performances. In small moments when his parallel worlds overlap, such as a boardroom meeting when he places a handful of macadamia nuts on a table and comments on their effectiveness in baking, he comes alive with a subtle depth that clearly states what a truly fine actor he is.
While the film’s ultimate trajectory in the romance between Dominic and Lucca will not come as a surprise to anyone, the journey of “The Bread, My Sweet” is so enjoyable that its near-perfection actually comes as something of a surprise. Filmed in 23 days on Super 16mm (the transfer to 35mm is so fine that it is impossible to detect its celluloid roots), “The Bread, My Sweet” is a small production with a big heart and an intelligent sense of focus. It is a major shame that this film is having difficulty getting the force of attention it deserves, for it is one of the very best independent films currently in release.