We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

It’s all too easy to note the ways in which The Bread, My Sweet goes horribly wrong: A mentally challenged 30-something is milked for maximum gush. The old Italian dad talks like Jar Jar Binks. And, like the setup of a bad joke, big, important-looking letters at the film’s intro announce what ought to be its biggest liability: Scott Baio stars. Playwright Melissa Martin’s directorial debut is a My Big Fat Greek Wedding with extra cheese, a story of a hardass corporate exec who bakes biscotti with his brothers in the pre-dawn before making heads roll by day. Dominic (Baio), who owns the bakery where his brothers Eddie (Billy Mott) and Pino (Shuler Hensley) work, has a loving relationship with the elderly Italian couple living upstairs from the shop: sick but spirited Bella (Rosemary Prinz) and the horribly accented Massimo (John Seitz). When Bella is handed a terminal diagnosis, Dominic decides to make her final months happy by asking her independent, globe-trotting daughter, Lucca (Kristin Minter), to marry him. (Proposal: “I don’t want to get married. I don’t. But you and I, we have to.”) The film is flawed in the ways sentimental stories so often are, including occasionally terrible dialogue (Massimo seems to start every sentence with “Me no…”) and forced exposition (Eddie: “You’re a good man!” Dominic, below biscotti store: “I’m a better guy when I’m up there”). But the whole of The Bread, My Sweet turns out to be pleasantly watchable, helped in no small part by the midpoint introduction of Lucca, who ratchets up the movie’s intelligence quotient with shades-of-gray emotions and thoughts on life that run deeper than “food good, cancer bad.” And Baio—man, I’m gonna get mocked—still has his Chachi appeal. (The press notes list his Diagnosis Murder credit, but c’mon.) The actor gives Dominic a down-to-earth sincerity that makes his old-fashioned thoughts on family and food attractive instead of unbelievable, and the slight but noticeable shift in Dominic’s demeanor when he’s around the higher-minded Lucca adds an unexpected roundness to his character. Both the film’s major developments, death and love, are handled with surprising subtlety, drawn with genuine heartache and eroticism even in the most pivotal scenes. Like the bulk of its characters, The Bread, My Sweet may not be sophisticated, but it’s still something of a pleasure. —Tricia Olszewski