I helped myself to a triple serving of Netflix this week and I got it all – a healthy protein, (The Life Ahead), a tasty side dish filled with empty calories (The Princess Switch: Switched Again) and a dessert (Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey) that was good, if not particularly memorable. The Italian drama The Life Ahead is the strongest of the three – by far. But each has its place, depending on your mood. In a nutshell, The Princess Switch sequel is for everyone who saw the 2018 Christmas romcom starring Vanessa Hudgens in a dual role. This time around, she plays three lookalike characters. It’s easy breezy fluff. Jingle Jangle has a bit more heft as a family-friendly Christmas musical fantasy film with a congenial cast and fantastical set and wardrobe. And The Life Ahead has legendary actress Sophia Loren in her first feature film role in a decade. At 86, she’s still got it.
I certainly know of Loren, and even snapped a pic of her villa along Italy’s Amalfi Coast last year. But I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen any of the dozens of films she’s appeared in since her first credited role in 1950. Her face is forever familiar though. And this film and this part feel ready-made for her. The Life Ahead is directed by Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti (their third such collaboration) and is an adaptation of the 1975 novel “La vie devant soi” (republished in 1986 as “The Life Before Us”) by French author Romain Gary. A previous adaptation, 1977’s Madame Rosa, won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. I don’t think The Life Ahead is best picture material, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Loren get a nomination for Best Actress. Her kid co-star, Ibrahima Gueye is also very good, as is Spanish trans actress Abril Zamora in a supporting role. In the book, the story takes place in France. In the film, the setting is Italy. But the plot remains the same:
A Holocaust survivor known as Madame Rosa (Loren) makes a meager living running a daycare center for the children of prostitutes, a profession she has personal experience in. She begrudgingly takes in a 12-year-old Sengalese orphan named Momo (Gueye) who steals and deals to get by. But his deviant ways cover a good heart and a deep craving for love and family. Rosa and Moma form a special bond that is tested as Rosa’s health deteriorates.
The Life Ahead is a moving, bittersweet drama that serves as a poignant reminder of Sophia’s unique look, sound and talent. They’ve stood the test of time, as has she. The Netflix film is dubbed into English, but I kinda wish I’d seen it in its original Italian.