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Dress Code

average rating is 3 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

Feb 23, 2023

Film Reviews
Dress Code
Directed by:
Joseph Pupello
Written by:
Peter Panagos
Gerard Garilli, Nicholas Giordano, Freddie Maas

Doing something somewhat original within the gangster genre is an accomplishment within itself in 2023. Points already on the board for Dress Code, a film otherwise drenched in mobster cliches yet maintains a sincerity and intrigue.


Bobby Russo (Nicholas Giordano/Gerard Garilli) is the son of feared mob boss Dominic Russo (Freddie Maas). Spending his youth with his best friend Chris (Aden Dixon/Kevin Williamson), Bobby struggles to hide his fascination with women’s clothing. His mother Joyce’s (Alex Di Trolio) discovery of his secret leads to Bobby hiding his identity deep down. As he grows older, and becomes more entwined with the mob, Bobby’s secret life threatens to place him in great danger…


There’s plenty of problems with Dress Code. Its script is filled with more mob-movie cliché dialogue than you can throw a plate of gabagool at. It’s clunky in moments – such as quite literally stating its own setting as ‘1990s New Jersey’. It’s overlong. And it’s plot is confusing at times and driven far too often by coincidence and chance. And its closing monologue is so corny it wouldn’t look out of place on a lower-end ABC teen-drama


And yet this feature from first-time director Joseph Pupello still manages to invoke incredible tension, develop gripping characters filled with considerable depth, and handle its protagonist’s sexuality and gender identity with sensitivity, sympathy and responsibility. Bobby’s crossdressing is presented as an integral part of his character, yet one that only fundamentally defines his life because of the lack of acceptance and threat the world around him would react with. Bobby is not a character that easily fits any box or lives up to the stereotypes often seen on screen. His damage and trauma are the result of the hypermasculine world he was born into, and not his refusal to apply society’s expectation of gender to his preferred way to live. Viewers are left to form their own conclusions around the person Bobby may be in a different life, and this intrigue stems from the director and writer’s careful and considered construction of the character.


The film boldly sets its story across two timelines, covering Bobby’s youth and adulthood in the gang. What could have caused the story to collapse under its own weight instead gives the filmmakers opportunities to weave further complexity into the characters and integrate a proper origin for the protagonist. Bobby’s key relationships – with his tyrant father Dominic, troubled best friend Chris, and conflicted uncle Rocco (Frank Osso) benefit from the enhanced development and unexpected turns that come from the time leap. And whilst the size of the cast is considerable, the family ties and focus enhance the personal stakes and keep the story largely legible – though some plotlines are clearly for padding and end up spiralling to nowhere.


The energy and dynamism of the cast help keep audiences engaged too. Outside of Bobby’s complex personal life, the characters are walking caricatures of mob-movie staples (with Bobby’s father Dom practically dressed as Tony Soprano). Yet the likes of Freddie Maas, Frank Osso and Edward Socienski (who plays loose-cannon Alphonse Moretti) throw themselves fully into the characters, and give joyously hammy performances. But this is really Gerard Garilli and Nicholas Giordano’s film. The depth of Bobby as a character gives both actors the opportunity to demonstrate their acting ability – with Giordano particularly special in exploring Bobby’s confusing youth.


Even with some fundamental flaws, Dress Code is a fascinating and engaging film that finds a unique angle in a crowded genre and introduces engaging and empathetic characters to turn what could have been a cliché-packed forgettable drag into something truly memorable and enjoyable.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Digital / DVD Release, Theatrical Release
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