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Casual Encounters

Brett Jutkiewicz

Italian Studies (2021)

Vanessa Kirby is a mesmerizing screen presence and “Italian Studies” is designed to exploit that to the maximum – but exploitation is all this film does. Writer-director Adam Leon has wasted everyone’s talents on a juvenile fantasy about a woman in distress.

The plot is silly beyond belief: A woman (Ms. Kirby) suddenly experiences an amnesia attack so comprehensive she forgets her cute little dog outside a hardware store in Manhattan. Without money or identification, all she can do is wander the streets, stealing snacks from bodegas and sleeping curled up on her coat in a hotel stairwell. Fortunately a passing lesbian recognizes her – in a plot twist straight out of “Romancing the Stone,” except a thousand times dumber – as the writer Alina Reynolds, whose famous book “Italian Studies” is kept in hardback in the same library where her teenage would-be rescuer Simon (Simon Brickner) hides his weed. So Alina reads, then autographs, her own book and then covers for her confusion with the gang of kids Simon has introduced her to by pretending to be researching her next novel. Is there more to it? A little, but nothing that isn’t embarrassing for all involved.

Costume designer Victoria Cronin’s clothes are the only thing that maintain a semblance of continuity; and Brett Jutkiewicz’s street shots of Ms. Kirby wandering around Manhattan are sometimes quite beautiful – the night shot of lights reflected on Ms. Kirby’s face as fireworks go off in the distance and fire trucks drive past is especially good – but the four credited editors completely failed to make something comprehensive out of this. Not even the Let’s Eat Grandma cameo in London which bookends the film can save the day. We have here a teenage rescue fantasy about an adult woman in sudden crisis and a seemingly kind young man who decides he’s entitled to take advantage. A smarter movie would have either mocked him relentlessly or gently spelled out the facts of life, but Mr. Leon clearly just wanted to make a teenage dream of his come true. Where does he get off?


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