Perfect Strangers

The setting is middle-class urban Italy – Rome, in fact.  Seven old friends gather for dinner at the elegant home of the most affluent pair in the group – a surgeon and his wife. 

They have a teenage daughter, who’s on her way out for the night, but first there’s a flaming row with her mother, who’s rifled through the girl’s handbag and found condoms.  Papa seems more relaxed about this state of affairs than Mama. 

We see several of the guests preparing at home to go out.  One couple look to be in a state of newlywed bliss.  Another couple are past the lovey-dovey stage to the extent that they are keeping secrets from one another.  At least, she is from him.  Having given the baby-sitter last-minute instructions, she has a swift drink, taking care  not to let her husband see.  Before finally rushing out the door, she whips off her knickers and puts them in a drawer, also on the sly.

The seventh member of the group and the last to arrive at the party is a single man who’s supposed to be bringing his new squeeze. They are all keen to meet her but are disappointed when Beppe arrives alone, claiming ‘Lucia’ is sick and couldn’t come.   But true to type he has brought two good bottles of wine, unlike the couple who, also true to type (according to bitchy gossip heard earlier) turn up with one stingy bottle of cheap organic wine between them. 

All these tantalising incidentals of character and circumstance set us up nicely for the main event:  the show-and-tell game they play with their smartphones.  Everyone’s got one, of course, and the deal is that every text that anyone gets must be read out, and any call must be answered and put on speakerphone. 

Why do they do such a crazy, reckless thing?  Not everyone’s keen on the idea, and you wonder what Eva is trying to prove or gain by goading them into playing this dangerous game, especially when she has her own secrets to hide, and I’m not just talking about her knickers. 

I don’t want to give too much away, as part of the pleasure here is the perfectly paced unfolding of the plot.  Can’t resist one example, which is the first secret to be revealed.  Out on the balcony for a fag, one of the men reveals to single Beppe that he has this sexting thing going with a co-worker and that a naughty pic from her will arrive by text at 10pm.  They have the same phone so would Beppe get him out of a tight spot and swap phones?  After all, no-one will care if HE gets a sexy text from a mystery lady. 

Beppe does this favour for his married friend, and copes beautifully with the ribbing he gets when the text arrives.  But then HIS texts start arriving on the other bloke’s phone….

This is both an uproariously funny, ingeniously plotted bedroom farce for the digital age, and a sophisticated morality tale with serious undertones.  For one thing it raises the question of  how much honesty is really good for us in an era which values full emotional disclosure.  It certainly presents a convincing case for the notion that our relationships would be healthier and happier if we deployed the occasional little white lie.

Originally published on Facebook in February 2017