Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Simon Brickner, Annika Wahlsten, Annabel Hoffman
Director: Adam Leon
Coming out of 2021’s Tribeca Film Festival, I had heard a fair amount of positive buzz surrounding Italian Studies and was looking forward to the opportunity to watch it. Leon is an up and coming director with critical acclaim under his belt for his previous movies and adding an Academy Award nominee in Kirby to the cast certainly opens himself up to phenomenal opportunities with this movie. So, with all of that in mind, does this film live up to those opportunities? It does until it doesn’t. I see what the film is going for, but it has clunky moments that weigh it down and prevent it from being elite. It’s an interesting premise and Kirby gives another spectacular leading performance, but Italian Studies ends up being just a little too abstract for its own good and holds back an otherwise captivating movie.
The film follows Alina Reynolds (Kirby), a woman in New York who has suddenly lost her memory and any sense of herself. Now having to navigate her life without any idea of her name, experiences, or identity, Alina starts to meet unfamiliar faces that help her try to piece together an idea of who she was before she lost her memory. Whether or not this new identity is a truthful one is up to Alina as well as the audience to decide. Naturally this is a very interesting concept when you really think about it. What would any of us do if we were given a completely clean slate with no recollection of who we are and what we were like in our lives? What would we do with this fresh start? It’s definitely a promising premise for a movie and I give credit to Leon for writing a script that explores this idea. One of the things the film does very well is it accurately conveys this feeling of confusion and anxiety for the duration of the 81 minute runtime. Whether this is with camera and editing tricks that jumble the world into something unrecognizable and overwhelming or the use of interview-style dialogue, Italian Studies showcases the initial reasoning as to why you should watch this movie and makes sure the central thesis is understood. On top of that, Kirby gives another dazzling leading performance as Alina. It tends to be a rich yet quiet performance which I have started to associate her with after her appearance in Pieces of A Woman (I’m still not over her not winning that Oscar), so when Kirby isn’t featuring in huge action franchises, she gives performances like this that show us the truly talented and capable actress that we know she can be. The only thing I had concerns with is the reasoning behind why the plot was happening. I understand why the movie was made and what the concept of the plot is, but there are vague and inconsistent moments that unfortunately keep this movie from being excellent. Alice is an unreliable narrator, so trying to decipher what is real and what isn’t makes this movie difficult to watch. I didn’t quite understand which events were really happening and which ones were fictitious which made piecing this narrative together quite difficult. On top of this, I think there may be some sort of deeper symbolism included in the majority of the movie. Since there are several scenes where Alice is interviewing groups of young adults and teenagers, it could be argued that the loss of identity is a metaphor for the transitional period from childhood to adulthood, but this isn’t explicitly clear and could just be something unintentional that I took away from this movie. I think this is the type of movie that will benefit from multiple rewatches in order to understand the entirety of what it has to offer. That being said, I believe audiences will have a tough time giving this film another chance after their initial viewing, which puts the film in a difficult position. It’s a movie that is worth a watch, but may not be enticing enough for a second try, while also potentially better on a second try. There aren’t too many movies that I can describe the same way as Italian Studies, so if you want to watch something unique you’ve certainly found something that checks off that box. If you can find it on a streaming service and don’t mind some narrative inconsistencies, I think Italian Studies may be the indie film that gives you another opportunity to watch Kirby excel in an overall capativing film.
Overall, while this may seem like a step back for Leon, I am confident that his next endeavor will be a return to form and something that will put him back on track. Kirby is clearly hitting her stride and if anything will convince you to watch this movie at least watch it for her performance. All else fails at 81 minutes, this isn’t a huge commitment so you can’t be that upset even if you don’t like it. I can see this movie going either way for viewers, so I leave it open to your interpretation. Does it meet your needs and provide you quality entertainment? Will it leave you confused and angry that you wasted your time? There’s only one way to find out.
Final Thoughts: Stream It