At best a cute anecdote that scrapes by at just over 70 minutes, Mid-August Lunch finds harried Gianni (writer-director Gianni Di Gregorio), a Rome bachelor well into his 50s who’s a kitchen whiz and caretaker for his elderly, halo-coiffed mother (Valeria De Franciscis), with three additional octogenarian women under his roof for the summer holiday of Ferragosto. The new arrivals, two relatives deposited by Gianni’s semi-threatening condo manager and the mother of his busy doctor, indulge in mild bickering over dinner entrees and TV access, but before long are bonding with Mama in a palm-reading session and driving their weary cook/wrangler to slip pills into their chamomile tea. (Given that Di Gregorio co-wrote producer Matteo Garrone’s mob drama Gomorrah, one momentarily fears—or anticipates—the plot is about to turn murderous, but the drugs are the reluctant patients’ daily prescriptions.)
These bambinas d’oro do banter and cavort in a more improvisatory and charming key than most of their sitcom cousins, but Di Gregorio’s handheld, grotty video look adds little aside from a note of spontaneity, and the filmmaker’s character doesn’t seem much more than a put-upon, then accepting, reactor to the matronly antics. When Gianni discovers one of his charges has escaped to have a nip at an outdoor café, her “Have a drink it, calms everything” turns out to be a prologue to a would-be seduction, but it doesn’t advance past an awkward tumble on the sofa. Di Gregorio saves the inevitable wine-fueled freeform dancing for the end credits, but it’s a sequence as likely to stick in the memory as the rest of his mild, precious comedy.