Italian Studies might have the incredible Vanessa Kirby in the lead role and the talented Nicholas Britell as a composer, but that doesn’t make this “search for identity” narrative any more compelling–it’s a film that’s experimental just for the sake of it.
While visiting New York City on a trip from her native London town, writer Alina Reynolds (Vanessa Kirby) inexplicably (a hard emphasis on this word) loses her memory. She doesn’t know where she is, what time it is, or even her own name; Alina is just wandering adrift the rowdy streets of Manhattan alone. Her awareness wanders left to right between fragments of her own short stories, conversations she envisioned, and the heavily heaving city. Alina meets Simon (Simon Brickner), who introduces her to his group of friends and, together, we go along the slowly passing and disorienting music-filled days. Adam Leon made Italian Studies to be a piece on connection, identity, and the echoes of remembrance through the eyes of the youth.
There are pieces of that vision scattered across the film, yet never in complete formation in terms of story, structure, and the meaning behind it all. It switches its setting rapidly– one minute in Aline’s hometown near London, the next in the hectic streets of NYC– just to make the audience feel the perception of a lost mind. The narrative then divides itself into Aline strolling around and numerous interviews with teenagers about youth, their respective futures, and love, some of which bear a striking resemblance to the 2021 documentary Futura. The problem with that division is that they don’t correlate with each other. The interviews don’t add anything to the narrative being told other than making you feel lost like the lead character. It’s too disjointed, and the questions/answers given in the interviews aren’t awe-inspiring.
Futura had repetitive answers, nevertheless, some of them made you think about today’s society. Unfortunately, none of the teenager’s responses in this film make you ponder about their earnest lives. Aside from the narrative flaws the actors that play the teenagers aren’t very convincing and the script falls short. One of the weirdest sections in Italian Studies is when Simon convinces Aline to hang out with him and his group of friends… by trying to re-sell hot dogs he bought at a store. What comes next are budding interactions between Aline and the teens, which get into confusing and uncomfortable territories. There is “experimentation”, and the film wants to be a piece that connects with both the old and young crowds, however, there is no reason for the film to be this unconventional.
The story, or lack thereof, is an easy one to tell: a woman, out of the blue, forgets who she is, and via conversations with a group of teens, starts remembering her past and forges her identity. Nevertheless, Leon complicates things for the sake of it. It could have been better if it was a documentary of the youth in New York, albeit that as well has been done a lot recently (the previously mentioned Futura, C’mon C’mon, etc). With a runtime that is less than 90-minutes, Italian Studies drags and drags on from beginning to end. The sensation of boredom and disinterest surrounds the audience watching. Vanessa Kirby is good, as she always is, and you also have the talented composer Nicholas Britell attached to it so there is potential somewhere, yet it is never found.