Written by Jon Berk
Director: Adam Leon
Starring: Vanessa Kirby, Simon Brickner, Annika Wahlsten, Annabel Hoffman, Maya Hawke
Italian Studies (2021) is the newest film by director Adam Leon. It has a powerhouse lead with Vanessa Kirby, who is terrific in this surreal, trippy New York film. If you are looking for a plot first film, however, you’ll be disappointed. Much like the character who finds herself wandering the city unsure of who she is, why she’s there, or what she should be doing - the movie is more experiential and contemplative.
Initially, I am the type of film viewer who is concerned with the story and plot. In some cases, a film like this one that poses a mystery at the center of the character -- why doesn’t she remember who she is -- can often distract me from what the film is actually trying to do. My brain begins tugging at the various threads, with the hope to find an answer before the filmmaker reveals it through the narrative. Sometimes I come to the correct conclusion, and other times I miss the mark...but there is something that will always be frustrating (yet at the same time, endlessly intriguing) when a film doesn’t offer the answer itself. In this case, the movie isn’t about that answer - but rather the journey, the questions, and the experiences Kirby’s character has. While I won’t deny a level of frustration felt during the film, I have warmed to this experience more since the film ended.
Kirby was fantastic in this film, but it was her young co-star who was the big surprise. Simon Brickner, in what appears to be his film debut, brings so much charm and naturalism to his role that I instantly found myself drawn to him. So much so, that even as he awkwardly offered to sell Kirby’s character hot dogs that he’d over-purchased, I was captivated by his demeanor. There was an element of fear I had that she would go with him, and he would prove to be malicious or have ill intentions. The scenes with the two of them are moving in ways I did not expect. I hope to see Brickner in future projects, as he demonstrated quite a bit of talent in his debut.
Italian Stories is a compelling film and a quick watch. It will land differently for each person who watches it, and may even feel slight to some. Nonetheless, it’s one that has only stayed with me since its conclusion. If a film’s quality is measured by its lasting impact, then this one must be rather high. Italian Stories earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.
June 16th 2021