Review: ‘Italian Studies,’ starring Vanessa Kirby

January 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Vanessa Kirby in “Italian Studies” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Italian Studies”

Directed by Adam Leon

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and briefly in London, the dramatic film “Italian Studies” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A British woman, who’s a book author with amnesia, wanders around New York City and tries to befriend a group of teenagers who are complete strangers to her. 

Culture Audience: “Italian Studies” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching meandering films that don’t have much of a plot.

Simon Brickner in “Italian Studies” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Italian Studies” is a misguided stream-of-consciousness drama about amnesia. Too bad the filmmakers forgot to make it an interesting movie. “Italian Studies” is an annoying and repetitive bore that’s trying desperately to be “artsy” and “meaningful,” but the movie ultimately isn’t very creative, and it has nothing to say.

Written and directed by Adam Leon, “Italian Studios” is essentially a 78-minute film where actress Vanessa Kirby plays a character who walks around and acts confused in New York City and briefly in London. In the movie, Kirby portrays a book author named Alina Reynolds, a Brit who has amnesia and no identification on her.

Don’t expect the movie to reveal how Alina got amnesia. Alina doesn’t find out her name until about halfway through the film, but she doesn’t do what most people with amnesia would do if they found out their names: Use that information to find out more about herself, where she lives, and if she has any loved ones who are looking for her.

Instead, the movie wastes a lot of time showing Alina, who is in her 30s, being fixated on hanging out with teenagers who are complete strangers to her. The teens, who are between 15 to 18 years old, are all part of a loosely knit social circle in New York City. Most of them are played by non-professional actors and most of the teenage characters in the movie don’t have names.

Some sections of “Italian Studies” try to go for a vibe that’s similar to Larry Clark’s 1995 teen movie “Kids,” by having several scenes of the teens partying and talking about their lives. The teenagers in “Italian Studies” aren’t as hedonistic as the ones in “Kids,” but they have the same concerns that a lot of teenagers do about finding their identities and where they can get acceptance from other people. Unfortunately, almost all of the teen characters in “Italian Studies” (including Maya Hawke in a small role as a character named Erin McCloud) are forgettable and don’t have distinct personalities. Expect to see these rambling teen scenes go nowhere in “Italian Studies.”

“Italian Studies” also has many scenes that drag out the repetition of showing Alina’s amnesia without her doing much to find out who she is. Before she finds out what her name is, Alina remembers that she was staying at a motel and the room number. She goes to the motel and asks the front-desk clerk (played by Sam Soghor) to give her a spare key to her room because she lost the key. When the clerk asks for her name, she says that she can’t remember, and she doesn’t have any ID on her.

Not surprisingly, the clerk gets suspicious and doesn’t give her the room key. Alina gets irritated that he won’t just hand over the key, which is an indication that not only has she lost her memory, she’s also lost her common sense. This is obviously a motel that doesn’t ask for photo IDs when people check in to get a room, which is why the motel has no record that her identify was verified before they gave her a room. Even if the motel has this lenient check-in policy, Alina should still know that motels don’t just hand out keys to anyone who asks, so her entitled attitude is not justified at all.

There’s another time-wasting sequence about Alina having a white poodle that she left outside on the street and tied to a street post when she went into a convenience store. When she left the convenience store, she forgot to take the poodle with her. It isn’t until an untold number of days later that Alina remembers that she had a dog, and she tries to find it. For anyone who’s not interested in seeing this movie, the good news is that she eventually finds the dog, which was being kept at the convenience store.

“Italian Studies” has some random moments that look like they were put in the movie as filler. While walking on a street in New York City, Alina passes by two young Hasidic Jewish men (played by Misha Brooks and Luca Scoppetta-Stern), who repeatedly ask her, “Are you Jewish?” She answers, “I don’t know.”

In other scene, Alina steals some candy from a convenience store, because she’s hungry and has no money. Not once is she shown making any realistic attempt to find out who she is, or even try to get substantial help in finding out her identity. (This movie takes place in the 21st century, when the Internet and cell phones exist.) Most people with amnesia would seek help, in order not to reach a point of desperation where they have to steal food because they have no money.

A moment that looks “only in a movie” phony is how Alina meets a teenage stoner named Simon Brickner, played by an actor with the same name. They’re in a fast-food place that sells hot dogs. Simon asks Alina if she can buy some of the hot dogs that he recently purchased there. He explains that he used a credit card to buy the hot dogs, because the place has a minimum monetary amount required to use a credit card. Therefore, Simon bought more hot dogs than he can eat, so he wants to resell them.

Alina declines the offer because she’s already eating her own hot dog. (It can be assumed she had a little bit of cash with her, because later in the movie she’s run out of money and steals candy for food.) Alina then tells Simon that she’s actually a vegetarian. Simon asks her why she’s eating a hot dog if she’s a vegetarian. She replies, “I’m taking a break.”

During this conversation, Simon asks if Alina wants to hang out with him. She says yes with no hesitation, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world for a person in her 30s with amnesia to not care about finding out who she is, and hang out and party with a teenager instead. The scenes with Simon and Alina are boring and very self-indulgent.

Viewers learn more about Simon than Alina in this movie. He’s a motormouth 18-year-old who’s not very smart and doesn’t know what to do with his life. He lives with his parents, he has no job, and he has no plans to go to college. Simon likes to smoke a lot of marijuana, which he shares with Alina. Simon keeps his marijuana stash hidden inside a book at a local library, because he says that his mother searches his room.

According to Simon, his parents think that Simon is a loser, and he despises his father, whom Simon calls “an asshole.” Simon also has a younger sister. (His family is not seen in the movie.) Later, there’s a cringeworthy part of “Italian Studies” where Alina makes out with Simon. It just shows that not only as she lost her memory and any common sense, she’s also lost good judgment.

The only reason why Alina eventually finds out her name and occupation is because a woman approaches her on the street and gushes to her about how much of a fan she is of her collection of short stories called “Italian Studies.” The adoring fan also tells Alina that she saw Alina doing a reading of “Italian Studies” two years ago. Because of this conversation, Alina finds out that she’s a successful author, and “Italian Studies” is her first book.

And so, off Alina goes to a library to find her “Italian Studies” book and to see if it could lead to more clues about her identity. It’s at the library that she finds out her name, but the movie is so stupid that it leaves out something that anyone with amnesia would do: Look at the part of the book that lists the author’s biography information.

The movie shows that the book is dedicated to two people named Ade and Richard, but Alina just ignores that information too. She also doesn’t think about contacting the book publisher, which is information that’s also listed. Instead, Alina wants to autograph the book.

Another library patron (played by Joshua Astrachan), who’s sitting at the same table, sees Alina writing in the book, and he tells her that she shouldn’t be doing that. She replies with indignation that she wrote “Italian Studies,” and then tries to shame him for daring to question who she is and why she’s writing in the book. It’s one of many indications of how Alina—amnesiac or not—is an unpleasant and somewhat arrogant person. Alina haughtily tells the man before she leaves the library in a huff: “You’re a cold world. A signed book is a warm world.”

More tiresome and incoherent scenes ensue as Alina hangs out with Simon and his group of acquaintances and friends. She finds out from some of the teens that her next book that she was working on before she got amnesia was going to be a novel about teenagers, so she was interviewing real teenagers as research. She decides to continue this research by interviewing Simon and his friends, who know that she has amnesia, but they don’t seem to care much at all. When one of the teens tells Alina that it isn’t very original to write a young-adult novel about teenage issues, Alina has this obnoxious reply: “Go fuck yourself!”

One of these teens in Simon’s social circle is a talented singer named Lucinda (played by Annabel Hoffman), and Alina becomes fascinated with her. After Alina sees Lucinda singing at a party, she starts showing up at places where Lucinda sings, such as a nightclub and a recording studio. Alina tries to befriend Lucinda, who is a little confused over why this older woman, who’s a stranger, is paying so much attention to her.

Alina tells Lucinda that she thinks Lucinda is very talented. Lucinda’s reaction to Alina is polite caution. Alina also keeps asking Lucinda’s friends for more information about Lucinda, and where Lucinda is if Lucinda isn’t there. It’s all very stalkerish, but none of this creepy behavior is questioned by anyone in the movie.

In fact, it seems like none of the filmmakers questioned the half-baked, irritating and pointless scenes that pollute this entire movie. As the amnesiac Alina, Kirby is hindered by playing such a vague, prickly and unrelatable character. It’s difficult to root for this protagonist. The acting in this movie is not very impressive.

To make matters worse, the dialogue in “Italian Studios” is atrocious and often very unbelievable. The end of “Italian Studies” abruptly throws in a scene that shows if Alina found any of her loved ones or not. But by the time this final scene stumbles into the movie, most viewers will have emotionally checked out and not care at all.

Magnolia Pictures released “Italian Studies” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 14, 2022.

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