Not long ago, Bob Shallcross found himself in a midlife quasi-crisis, working long hours as a successful creative director at an ad agency, but not seeing nearly enough of his wife and four children. He was, as he puts it, "missing out on some of the simple, important pleasures in life."

So he quit his job and ended up making a semi-autobiographical movie about that very thing—Uncle Nino, written and directed by Shallcross and opening in limited theaters this Friday.

The story features an Italian-American family which isn't connecting with one another. The father, Robert (Joan of Arcadia's Joe Mantegna), is overworked and in dire need of a wake-up call. That's when Uncle Nino (Pierrino Mascarino), an elderly Italian peasant living a bucolic rural live, arrives on the scene to visit his American nephew and family. The serene Uncle Nino, violin in hand, finds a fast-paced suburban culture and a family that barely communicates—and you can guess who plays a role in helping to turn things around. The end result is a sweet film with that sentimental movie-of-the-week type of feel.

We recently caught up with Shallcross, 46, to discuss his film and the state of the American family.

Shallcross hardly sounds Italian, so what are you doing writing an Italian story and how do you understand this culture so well?

Bob Shallcross: I grew up in Roselle (a Chicago suburb) and had a ton of Italian friends, spending a lot of time in their houses and seeing a very interesting, rich tradition, centered around food and family. When I started working on this story, I wanted to do a story about a typical American family—a family that's very much in love, but just disconnected. Everything is organized—running kids here, there, ...

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