Film: ‘Donna: Stronger Than Pretty’

While the actual Donna is middle-aged woman who has gone through all this, Amundsen doesn’t seem to age a day throughout the quarter century portrayed in the film. (Anthony Ficco’s creepy Nick, for his part, doesn’t age either, even as he doesn’t learn his lesson).

This inconsistency is more jolting among their kids — one remains a toddler for about 10 years, and then suddenly is in school; his little brother and sister are unseen swaddled babies before they suddenly emerge as school age kids, then teens (filmmaker Martino, who began his career as a child actor, fills in as one of the older kids as well).

“Donna” hints at an outmoded Long Island tradition among Italian families where husbands smack their wives around, but it’s all a little vague in the film. A lot of the most dramatic scenes seem described rather than depicted. 

The turnaround appears to be a scene when a butterfly alights on her journal, but even that scene is unclear (her journal seems to change color and finish). And she spends the end of the film determined to raise three kids on her own. Her adult education is indicated by one scene of paging through a book while cooking dinner. 

A woman in line at the county clerk’s office makes the offhand though oddball phrase of encouragement that is the film’s subtitle: “Women gotta be stronger than pretty.” 

Amundsen is an appealing actress with some flashes of Ali McGraw here and there, but we have to question her character’s judgment from the start by going with such an obvious disaster. And in playing the disaster of a husband, Ficco’s intensity proves to be of one note. (He also looks a little like a malevolent version of Kevin Dillon’s character Johnny Drama from “Entourage”).

Martino is obviously sincere in appreciating his mother’s struggles. In addition to bringing mom onto the film, he ends with a written statement of dedication “to my loving mother, Donna, whose bravery, sacrifice, smile and heart have shaped the man I am today.” 

But after spending seven years making this film, he might consider just sending a card next time. 

“Donna: Stronger Than Pretty” is available at Laemmie Theare virtual cinema through Jan. 21. It will be available on Apple, iTunes and Amazon Feb. 23. 

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