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About a Boy

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

L'Immensità (2023)

Andrew (he/him), played by Luana Giuliani, is a perpetually dour teen unpleasant to his younger siblings. Against his wishes, his parents, Clara (Penélope Cruz) and Felice (Vincenzo Amato), continue to misgender him and call him by his dead name, Adri. They seem to think this is a phase he should have outgrown by now. Andrew also begrudgingly attends a girls’ Catholic school where the uniform is of course far from gender-affirming for him. When alone, he asks God to send him a sign – which appears to manifest in black-and-white TV performances of ’60s Italian pop singers, or maybe in the form of a slum off the beaten path beyond the wire-fenced reeds Clara has designated as out of bounds. Having a clean slate there would certainly afford Andrew the chance to romantically pursue Sara (Penélope Nieto Conti).

In the background, domestic discord lurks. Felice always gets home late; and Andrew and his siblings often overhear the rancor and abuse taking place in a nearby room. On a family vacation, Clara witnesses Felice getting handsy with another woman. And shortly thereafter, Felice’s secretary, María (India Santella), turns up to announce her pregnancy. It’s unclear if any of this provides context central to Andrew’s gender crisis or if it’s meant to be some sort of Almodóvar homage with Ms. Cruz looking miserable in a melodrama draped with midcentury modern décor. Also seemingly just as arbitrary is Andrew’s fascination with TV appearances by Italian singers like Patty Pravo and Don Backy, despite this surfacing in one of the film’s pivotal scenes.

Men are scum, yes? Felice aside, Clara apparently also has to endure harassment from catcallers. Devoid of any positive male role model, it boggles the mind that Andrew aspires to be a man. Everything and everyone in this universe, created by director-cowriter Emanuele Crialese, feels one-dimensional. Andrew is entirely characterized by his gender, just as Clara is entirely defined by her marital woes. Felice is over the top negative without a trace of a redeeming quality. The various anecdotes, while somewhat interesting on their own, really don’t explain the characters or add anything to the narrative. To be sure, they say nothing about gender identity, or hellish marriages either, even as Andrew’s baby brother begins defecating all over the house and Clara finally checks into a sanatorium. There really isn’t a whole lot going on here beyond just vacuous vibes.


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