When last we saw Tony Manero, John Travolta’s character in “Saturday Night Fever” and the sequel “Staying Alive,” it was about 1983. Manero was still young, buff, good looking, and could still cut a striking figure on the dance floor.
But that was 30 years ago. What would an aging Manero be like in 2013? Would he have aged like fine wine, like George Clooney or even John Travolta? Or would he be a wrinkled, paunchy, and bald version of the Situation of “Jersey Shore” fame?
Those interested in glimpsing a dated and weathered Manero might be interested in seeing the movie “The Last American Guido” by Jersey City filmmaker Vito LaBruno. The 99-minute film is LaBruno’s feature-length debut and follows Tommy, a deli worker who, in the 1990s, had all the swagger, style, and confidence Tony Manero once had in disco-era dance clubs. Now, however, the 40-something Tommy has a receding hairline and a look that hasn’t been updated since “Seinfeld” went off the air.
This week, LaBruno will screen “The Last American Guido” before a sold-out audience at Hoboken’s Clearview Cinemas.
“He finds out that she’s had an affair and he’s forced to go back out there and start dating again,” said LaBruno, a Jersey City Police officer who admits the storyline was loosely inspired by his older brothers. “Tommy’s still wearing the gold chains and stuff that was popular in the ‘90s. You look at this guy and you think, ‘He’s not ready to be out there dating again.’ ”
Perhaps stating the obvious, LaBruno added, “The movie’s a comedy.”
Encouragement from the Fonz
The amusing script, which LaBruno wrote and directed, is only rivaled by the fantastical tale of how a Jersey City crime fighter became an award-winning filmmaker. And, incredibly, the story involves, of all people, the Fonz.
“I had done a little theater and acting in high school,” said LaBruno. “I auditioned for a lead role in [the 1993 Robert De Niro movie] ‘A Bronx Tale,’ and I even got a few callbacks. But I always had ideas for scripts. In 2006 I decided to take a script-writing workshop and the teacher sent my script to Henry Winkler. He actually wrote me back. He said he really liked the script and the plot and he wrote back to me and gave me a lot of pointers on things I could do to improve it and make it into something a producer might be interested in.”
Buoyed by the response, LaBruno continued working on various scripts and continued taking workshops to improve his writing and studied with New York University film instructor Marilyn Horowitz. In 2009 he made his first short film, the comedy “The Pope of Jersey City” and followed it up in 2011 with “Business is Dead,” another comedy.
“Business is Dead” was shown at the 2011 Lighthouse International Film Festival in Long Beach Island and at the inaugural Golden Door International Film Festival in Jersey City, also in 2011. The movie won the Audience Award for Best Short Film and Jury Prize for Best Short Film at the Lighthouse International Film Festival and won Best Director at the Golden Door International Film Festival.
With two shorts behind him, LaBruno is now turning his attention to two features he has had in the works for several years, beginning with “The Last American Guido.”
“It’s interesting; people always ask me why I don’t do cop movies,” the writer-director reflected. “There are cops in my movies. But they are never the main characters. Doesn’t really interest me. Maybe I use my scripts as a way to escape and get away from what I do for a living. In general, I don’t take things too seriously and I prefer comedies to heavy dramas.”
LaBruno is now doing limited screenings of “The Last American Guido” in hopes of getting a distribution deal.
This week, he is screening the movie before a sold-out audience at Hoboken’s Clearview Cinemas and hopes to secure a screening location in Jersey City soon.
Next, he has plans to work on a film about an Indian kid who gets adopted into a mob family. When his adoptive parents decide to give him exposure to a better upbringing, they send him back to India to be educated. The young man returns years later to make the thugs back home a kinder, gentler, and yoga-loving mob.
“Everything now in the film industry is about international crossover appeal,” said LaBruno. “Film companies are no longer looking at profits from the U.S. market. They’re now thinking about how a film will appear to audiences here and in other markets abroad. So, as a scriptwriter you have to be thinking about that too.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.