Eduardo Scarpetta was an Italian actor and playwright from the late 1800s to the early 1920s. For his time he was a superstar, a must see attraction that people flocked to the theatre to admire. His most famous creation was Felice Sciosciammocca, a typical, good-natured, scatter-brained everyman who stumbled through life. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s not surprising considering his career was over before moving pictures became big. In Italy however he was admired everywhere he went. He was the must see attraction, whose shows sold out theatres every night. The new film, The King of Laughter, takes a close look at his life. And it tries to show viewers the man behind the actor.
The film centres around Scarpetta’s legal conflict with a conteporary, the playwright Gabriele D’Annunzio in 1904 who feels that Scarpetta stole his play The Daughter of Iorio. Scarpetta disagrees however. He believes that his freedom of expression should allow him to parody the work of another, even if some feel he has gone too far. The case affects more than his professional life, straining his relationships with his family and friends. And the comedic mask he has worn for so long threatens to fall off and for good.
If The King of Laughter stayed focused on the court case it would have been enough to keep the audience invested in the story. But unfortunately, it goes well beyond that interesting part of Scarptetta’s life. And it drags on for much longer than it should. It feels like Scarpetta’s entire life is shown, which makes for an uneven film at times with way too much in it. The one savings grace is the performance of Toni Servillo who lights up the screen in the lead role.
Servillo carries every scene he’s in, and if the real life Scarpetta is anything like what they show on the screen, audiences will feel like they know the man well. It’s an energetic, and raw performance that may very well earn him award considerations next year. He’s the reason audiences should watch the film.
While The King of Laughter may not flow as well as it should, and it can benefit from a better editing job, it’s still an interesting story about a funny man whom we shouldn’t forget. Servillo’s performance alone is extremely entertaining. And it’s enough to power through a bloated film that at times feels a little bit lost.