THE STORY – “Finalmente l’alba” is the night-long journey of the young Mimosa who, in the Cinecittà of the 1950s, becomes the protagonist of hours she will never forget. A night on which the girl will turn into a woman.
THE CAST – Lily James, Rebecca Antonaci, Joe Keery, Rachel Sennott, Alba Rohrwacher & Willem Dafoe
THE TEAM – Saverio Costanzo (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 142 Minutes
It can be an invigorating experience being able to witness the leisurely passing of a group of people. These excursions don’t always need to have a specific plot to follow. For many of them, all it takes is a loose plot to hang around a few individuals. It’s merely a jumping-off point for a further exploration of a rich tapestry of commentary. However, it is vitally important to make the subjects themselves inviting. These are stories that live and die by their characters, and without a compelling core, these efforts are hardly successful. Such is the case with “Finally Dawn,” a genuinely laborious journey meant to be an illumination of self-discovery that really just ends up being a dour examination.
In 1950s Italy, young Mimosa (Rebecca Antonaci) lives a modest life with her family. She dreams of grander things in life but is content with the reality that she will live a meager lifestyle, already engaged to an uninspiring man her family approves of, but she does not love. On a chance encounter at the cinema, her sister is approached by a man claiming he can get her cast as an extra in a new film. Her sister accepts the invitation, and Mimosa joins along to try out as well. This sets her down a path that takes her into the world of famous actors. Josephine Esperanto (Lily James) and Sean Lockwood (Joe Kerry) are starring in the picture, and they guide her through a tumultuous world of excess, vanity, and deceit. Over the course of a single night, Mimosa comes to learn the true meaning behind this decadence and where her own power lies.
There seems to be an attempt from writer-director Saverio Costanzo to slowly unfold this narrative in a manner that reveals new twists and turns. It’s meant to be an evolving odyssey that opens new doors to this menagerie. However, there is a specific element that is desperately missing from the piece: momentum. The film makes a point not to have much of a plot to push the narrative forward, which is a perfectly valid form of storytelling. Yet here, there is very little that actually engages with the personal connections made throughout the runtime. Mimosa is meant to enter this night as meek and self-conscious and eventually come to a greater understanding of her self-worth. The problem is that every interaction she has feels completely hollow. Their randomness comes across as more careless construction rather than specifically designed chaos. It all becomes a laborious enterprise, tedious beyond imagination.
Tedium is one thing, but it’s quite another to force this story to inhabit so much self-importance without ever truly earning it. Every scene is just an exercise in the shallow intellectual capacity this story holds. It lingers on moments with great anticipation, imagining that the looks in the actors’ eyes will be enough to convey its themes. The truth is, it’s nowhere near enough. These characters are all shallow, and not only in the sense of their displayed opulence. These are utterly flat depictions of people with very little nuance. As the film demands nearly two-and-a-half hours to sit with these bland personalities, a revolt in the mind starts to occur. There’s not enough here to justify such a lengthy analysis. Every new venture that is introduced hardly comments any meaningful gesture of such utterly boring caricatures.
To her credit, Antonaci is a well-placed anchor for one to admire. She captures the naivety in a believable manner that makes for one of the few genuine aspects that creates some kind of emotional resonance. It’s a shame that her arc is not earned at all, and she’s forced to endure such terribly conceived scenes. The only other performer who makes it out with some dignity is Willem Dafoe as, a caring chauffeur, the only one who seems concerned about Mimosa’s well-being, and he has an endearing turn. It is unfortunate to see Kerry and James reduced to playing such badly executed archetypes, especially the latter. While Kerry is mostly bland and anonymous, James’s portrayal doesn’t give off an ounce of authenticity. The character is meant to be boastful and performative, but her performance signals more of a surface-level reading that lacks any nuance. It’s a shame because these are talented actors, but this is not their finest moment.
One could make the joke that by the time “Finally Dawn” ends, the sigh of relief is “finally over.” The film is just such an excruciatingly tiresome effort. The thematic commentary it aims to dissect is not captivating in the slightest, and the performances range from adequate to completely inauthentic. There’s even a problem with the score, one that casually switches back from being inspired by classic cinema to modern synth-pop compositions. It’s yet another odd facet to a film that challenges you to retain attention and interest. It wants to create a deeply felt character drama, but completely forgets the character and the drama.