Quirky good humour and the wrinkly but welcome presence of Mastroianni give this somewhat heartier appeal than might be expected from what is essentially a women's ensemble piece.
Beeban Kidron has been gifted with a dream cast in writer Todd Graff's salute to the women of his own family, and the actresses have a field day with the strong, funny, enduring characters. Shirley MacLaine's Pearl is a no-nonsense Jewish mama unnerved by the impossibly dramatic, romantic entry of a stranger, Joe (Mastroianni), at her husband's wake, who, it emerges, has not only loved Pearl from afar for years, but was instrumental in keeping her marriage together.
Thus an unlikely but poetic courtship begins, observed, obstructed, encouraged and commented on by the couple's respective families. Daughter Bibby (Bates) is a dumpy divorcee and the worm that turns. Daughter Norma (Marcia Gay Harden) is a tragedy queen whose impersonations of movie stars provide an amusing running gag that climaxes in a classic movie scene parody of acute hilarity, and as grandmother Frieda and her shrivelled crony Becky, Jessica Tandy and Sylvia Sidney form a double-act on the sidelines, bitching and delivering some screamingly good lines.
Inevitably, in the blend of Italian Catholics versus Jewish jokes, familial recriminations and a fatherless boy in need of male bonding, the poignance of the "grabbing a second chance at life" theme is nearly overdone. Graffs writing has the tartness, however, and Kidron's hand the lightness of touch to pull out a nice souffle.