Italian Studies, 2022.
Written and Directed by Adam Leon.
Starring Vanessa Kirby, Simon Bruckner, Annabel Hoffman, Annika Wahlsten, Chris Arias, Fred Hechinger, Ray Lipstein, Maya Hawke, and David Ajala.
A writer loses her memory. Adrift in NYC, she connects with a group of teenagers – in conversations both real and imagined – and searches for a way home.
There’s one impression of Italian Studies that immediately leaps out at the viewer, although it would have never stuck out if this current global health crisis had never occurred. As Vanessa Kirby’s amnesiac short story author Alina Reynolds wanders the streets of New York City looking to piece together memories and who she is, the streets are crowded in a way that screams writer and director Adam Leon shot this sometime before 2020. The fact that it has collected dust until the second week of January in 2022 should also be a reliable indicator of the quality here.
The core issue with Italian Studies is that no aspect of the filmmaking or Vanessa Kirby’s performance defines this character in any tangible or intriguing way. Even when it becomes clear that Alina is a well-known writer and the vignettes shown throughout the 78-minute running time are some combination of passages from her stories and moments lost to whatever is ailing her mind, there’s no driving force to care about these interactions and how they not only shaped her life once upon a time but how they can be recontextualized here to expand upon this hazy identity presumably seeking purpose.
Alina mainly engages with a group of teenagers as inspiration for her short stories. The conversations span a wide range of social and personal topics that are only benefited by the non-actor approach to the material (Adam Leon let Vanessa Kirby loose in the wild, and these are the results), providing both a sense of authenticity to everyone’s issues. They don’t necessarily matter in the grand scheme of the aimless and plodding thinly-sketched character study on hand, but these asides are occasionally worthwhile. However, that illusion of realism is typically broken once Alina starts talking, considering Vanessa Kirby is delivering a movie performance, whereas other characters seem to be speaking off the cuff. There’s a disconnect between the styles of acting on display.
The primary fixture of this group happens to be Simon (Simon Brickner), a high school senior that Alina encounters while he is ordering hotdogs inside a dine-in. Aside from Simon’s vitality and the chemistry the actors possess despite the nature of these mismatched characters, the sequence is also artfully shot by Brett Jutkiewicz, utilizing an aerial perspective from outside the restaurant and tracking the characters. With that said, there’s not much to grasp onto here either, as whatever impact these two have on each other feels hollow and shallow regardless of what they say about one another.
It would be unfair to demand Italian Studies dig into the medical condition of Alina in favor of something more plot-structured, but it’s also hard to say this as it is a freewheeling good time. Even the phrase “barely fleshed out” feels more like a backhanded compliment instead of an insult because that would imply someone knew where they were going with this journey and character. A film following someone along regaining memories and identity doesn’t necessarily mean free reign for a narrative equally confused and lost.
Italian Studies is a slog that might have sounded decent as a concept pitched to Vanessa Kirby, but the execution is a rambling, forgettable mess. Something is also deeply wrong when Nicholas Britell is your composer, yet even the music offers nothing to note.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com