"...It's a short yet surreal story"
ITALIAN STUDIES (2022)
THE "IMDB" PREMISE:
"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."
OUR [TO THE POINT] REVIEW:
Contrary to the name, Adam Leon’s Italian Studies has nothing to do with the country of Italy or its language. Instead, it's a short yet surreal story about a woman that's forgotten who she is in the city that never sleeps.
Now, I first saw this film at Tribeca last year and I was blown away. Simply put, it’s a rabbit hole, New York City is Wonderland, and Vanessa Kirby is Alice. If you don’t buy that comparison, know that it’s no coincidence the name her character goes by in the film is literally two letters off from Alice - Alina.
As Alina attempts to retrace her steps and truly remember who she is, she befriends a group of carefree teens. Despite most of them not knowing who they are yet, they end up teaching her more about herself than she ever knew in the first place.
Interestingly enough, there isn’t an exact structure to the film. There is a particular order to what happens, but the story shifts between the real-time experiences Alina is having, flashbacks to events that have already happened, and interviews with some of the film’s young - and mostly unknown - cast members. That might turn some viewers off and/or confuse others, but I thought it added to the overall dreamlike aesthetic.
As much as it might feel that he’s trying to lose us, he’s actually just trying to make us realize that we’re already lost. Maybe not as lost as Alina, but lost in the way that we’re all missing something in our lives and as we’re searching everywhere - and often even in the wrong places - to find it.
Going back to the mostly unknown cast, Maya Hawke (Stranger Things) and Fred Hechinger (Fear Street) show up as members of the young clique Alina befriends. Their roles are borderline cameos though. While I would have loved to see them interact with Kirby’s character a little bit more, I understand that the film might have been made right as both of their careers began to take off. However, I actually like that there was more of a focus on the absolutely unknown actors. It makes the film feel more authentic.
In fact, I found the young man who Alina interacts with frequently, named Simon, to be the film’s most compelling character. Despite being total strangers, he never judges Alina. He also doesn’t flinch when it comes to opening up about his personal problems, such as his lack of ambition. He stands out as an example of what it’s like to have your walls down, an important lesson Alina learns that’s teased as the reason she may have lost her memory in the first place.
As a whole, Kirby’s portrayal of Alina is fascinating. In addition to breaking her walls down, Alina also breaks down the notion of authority. While it is admittedly weird to see an adult woman hanging out with much younger “kids”, the age difference is never made an issue as she interacts and treats each one like her equal. There’s one scene I loved in particular where she goes out to eat with her new friends, and realizes that she doesn’t have her wallet. Rather than be embarrassed or upset, all of the teens come together and pitch in to pay the bill. There is no judgment in this circle of friends. And I feel that what Adam Leon is trying to point out through them is that if society was modeled after a similar microcosm, the world could be a better place.
My only real problem with the film is that we don’t get to explore New York City as much. Honestly, I think the city could have been a character itself and I don’t think Alina is given enough time to really lose herself in it before conveniently finding a group of friends to call home.
Additionally, the film ends on an odd cliffhanger, hinting that Alina wants to pursue Simon romantically. While it is certainly suggested that the two have a deeper connection, it feels too tacked on. Despite it’s already short runtime, I feel the film could have ended sooner and still felt complete.
Some films are meant to be understood. Others are meant to be experienced. Rewatching Italian Studies for this review, I realized that it falls into the latter category because it’s not about what happens to us, but how we get through it. Whether it be with the help of old friends, new friends, or even temporary acquaintances, the lessons we learn along the way are unforgettable.