Reviewed by Ken Fox

Infidelity, suspicion and a debilitating lack of self-worth push familial bonds to the breaking point in Italian director Gabriele Muccino's frenetic, high-decibal drama. Though the Ristuccia family has all the trappings of yuppie stability and respectability, they're "protagonists of a society aware of its own superficiality," as one character describes the Roman upper-middle class. Beneath the surface, each member of the family is miserable in his or her own unique way. Patriarch Carlo (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) has grown tired of both his job and his high-strung wife, Giulia (Laura Morante), who shelved her dreams of acting for marriage, kids and a less satisfying career as a schoolteacher. Giulia's shrill micro-management of the family's affairs has numbed Carlo into an indifferent stupor, and although she'd probably never admit it, she, too, is unhappy and blames Carlo for her aborted career and a crippling lack of self-confidence. Giulia would also be loathe to admit that she's come to resent her own 17-year-old daughter, Valentina (Nicoletta Romanoff), an aspiring pop tart who sees a spot as a dancer on the tacky game show "Ali Baba" as the first step toward superstardom. Valentina's 18-year-old brother, Paolo (Silvio Muccino, the director's son), meanwhile, has none of his sister's self-esteem; his general sense of worthlessness becomes critical when the girl with whom he's fallen in love (Guilia Michelini) admits she doesn't share his feelings. Over the course of the film, which is edited in rapid bursts more typical of an action movie than a family drama, each will face a life altering moment. Paolo will attempt to distinguish himself from his peers by throwing a enormous pot party to celebrate his 18th birthday; Valentina will stretch herself out on the casting coach in order to make her dreams a reality; and Giulia will swallow her fear and agree to audition for a play that's due to open in just two weeks. Carlo, meanwhile, embarks on a romantic adventure with an old lover (Monica Bellucci) that could have serious consequences for them all. Muccino and co-writer Heidrun Schleef's script is filled with the kind of sad wisdom that comes with age, and the film is acted with maximum fidelity to the emotional ugliness of real life. If anything it sometimes feels a little too real, watching Carlo and Giulia go at it for two hours straight is like listening to the next-door neighbors fighting into the wee hours of the night. It's alternately perversely fascinating and exhausting.