Strictly speaking, "Yes, Giorgio" is far too silly to be described as a good movie. However, it would be a big mistake to let a harmless rash of absurdities prevent you from sharing the luxurious good time to be had from this klutzy attempt to launch the great operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti as a movie star.
Although "Yes, Giorgio," opening today at area theaters, leaves itself wide open to critical censure on several counts, I think only the cranks and callow youths of the profession will be inclined to hold such a lightheaded delight accountable. Anyone who recalls the stilted productions MGM erected around the preposterous figure of Mario Lanza a generation ago, can't fail to appreciate the quantum improvement in both vocal and personality appeal represented by Pavarotti.
In overwhelming contrast to Lanza, Pavarotti looms as a resource that popular filmmakers ought to take advantage of while they can -- the magnificent human bargain of a great singing voice combined with an ingratiating presence. Director Franklin J. Schaffner and screenwriter Norman Steinberg commit more than their reasonable share of blunders, but they haven't blown the mission. Despite the frequent, laughable stumbling and fumbling, "Yes, Giorgio" succeeds in the one respect that really matters: it provides Pavarotti with a movie showcase engaging enough to display his thrilling vocal equipment and irresistible charm to happy advantage.
Commencing on notes of soaring picturesque and melodic banality that are sustained with hilarious consistency throughout the show, "Yes, Giorgio" opens with an airborne panorama over a beautiful coastal village in Italy and settles inside a cathedral, where Pavarotti is serenading a pair of newlyweds with "Ave Maria." The bridegroom is presently identified as an old pal of Pavarotti, who plays a tenor named Giorgio Fini. Following the ceremony, Giorgio drives away in his limo amid an adoring throng to begin an American concert tour. On the way to the airport he performs a second good deed, giving a lift to a stranded, elderly nun ("It's bad luck to pass a nun with a flat tire," he reminds the chauffeur) who doubts his identity until he acccompanies himself singing "O sole mio" on a cassette recording. Finally acknowledging her error, the old girl sighs contentedly, "Si, Giorgio."
Giorgio's first American engagement is a recital at the Hatch Shell, an amphitheater nestled with scenic brilliance against the Charles River in Boston. While rehearsing, Giorgio suddenly loses his voice. The concert appears to be in jeopardy until the arrival of a throat specialist, Dr. Pamela Taylor, played by Kathryn Harrold, who soothes what is diagnosed as a panicky, psychosomatic vocal malfunction, caused by the mention of an offer from the Met.
Giorgio and Pamela are supposed to rub each other the wrong way initially, owing to his prejudice against lady doctors and her indignation at ministering to a male chauvinist. "You told me he was from Italy," she huffs to Giorgio's manager, played by trusty-rusty Eddie Albert, "but you failed to mention he was from the Middle Ages!" .
Harrold doesn't sound at all comfortable articulating sarcastic snappers, and in the larger scheme of things this awkwardness may do her credit. Although the fundamental blame must be the writer's -- there's no reason why the leading lady shouldn't warm to Pavarotti as readily as the audience does once that introductory misunderstanding is smoothed over -- Harrold is bound to end up suffering the consequences with the public.
In fact, "Yes, Giorgio" is meant to evolve into a glamorously idyllic romantic comedy, with love blossoming as the lady doctor accompanies the gentleman celebrity on his tour and enjoys such fringe benefits as the great meals, accommodations and receptions that await him. It's obvious that Pavarotti needs to be sharing all the enviable perks and adoration with a cheerful, fun-loving companion.
Steinberg and Schaffner have also made unnecessary problems for themselves and the unfortunate Harrold by treating the affair hypocritically. Since Giorgio has an unseen wife and family somewhere back in Italy, he and Pamela are supposed to be enjoying a sophisticated adulterous fling with no strings attached. As it transpires, the filmmakers don't have the courage to follow through on this hedonistic note..
If Giorgio were widowed or divorced, the filmmakers would spare themselves a good deal of trivial grief. They attempt a parting saturated with melancholy, staged on the evening Giorgio returns to the Met in triumph in a production of "Turandot." As Pamela wistfully departs (in the middle of Giorgio's aria!), leaving her lover to an adoring audience, no one is going to feel the least tinge of loss, because it looks more fitting for Giorgio to devote himself to opera fans than to this emotionally repressed young woman.
In the course of the film Pavarotti favors the soundtrack with about half a dozen arias and an equal number of songs, ranging in solemnity from "Ave Maria" to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." John Williams has supplied a lovely melody to a goofy but obviously Oscar-bound Alan and Marilyn Bergman lyric, "If I Were in Love," that Pavarotti sings while flying over the Napa Valley in a balloon with Harrold and Albert, a superfluous chaperone if there ever was one. Still, it's impossible to hold this or other glaring inadequacies against Schaffner, because "Yes, Giorgio" also demonstrates how much he admires Pavarotti and desires to share this extraordinary performer with an equally appreciative audience.