Friday, May 29, 2015

Panorama Europe’15: I Can Quit Whenever I Want

The tenure process is not treating a studious young academic right, especially when his unhelpful advisor bizarrely suggests he is a Catholic Royalist to one of the Communist board members. Like many of his over-educated, over-credentialed colleagues, Pietro Zinni finds himself unemployed, but a chance visit to a smart-drug popping nightclub will give him Breaking Bad ideas in Sydney Sibilia’s I Can Quit Whenever I Want (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Panorama Europe, at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Nobody understands Zinni’s research, but it is brilliant. Unfortunately, that means all the funding and the permanent position at stake will go to a politically connected hack. Constantly nagged at home, Zinni even has trouble collecting from the students he tutors on the side. When he uncharacteristically pursues one of his deadbeats into a trendy nightspot, he happens to get a dose of the latest designer drug. It is an eye-opening experience, but Zinni knows he can concoct something better. Best of all, his new product will not be illegal under Italian law, until the coppers duly add it to the national registry.

To form his gang, Zinni will recruit a motley crew of under-employed academics, each of whom comes with his own annoying foibles. The economist will craft the business plan, the Latin scholars will handle sales, and the city archaeologist (who was issued a municipal van with an all access parking pass) will be in charge of distribution. Zinni and his former colleague Alberto will whip up their special blend in the university lab. Unfortunately, the latter will start sampling their product. Evidently, he never saw Scarface.

Comparisons to Walter White are inescapable, but Quit is also closely akin to Gianni Amelio’s super-temp film Intrepido, which bemoans the current state of Italian unemployment. Right, so how’s adopting the Euro and relinquishing the ability to devalue the Lira working out for everyone? Yet, the bitter truth is probably none of these colorful characters has any business working in academia—not even Zinni, who has no aptitude for teaching, as we see on multiple occasions.

As Zinni, Eduardo Leo makes a rather plodding everyman. On the other end of the spectrum, Stefano Fresi indulges in plenty of shtick as Alberto. Despite the thinness of her character, Valeria Solarino still shows some welcome signs of life as Zinni’s significant other. The comedy is pretty broad here, but at least Sergio Solli delivers a few cutting lines as the game-playing department chair.

Quit is amusing from time to time, but there is little here regular movie watchers have not seen before. It has too much quirk and not enough attitude for genre fans, but it is probably the sort of commercial film that can successfully masquerade as an art house indie. For those looking for some decidedly unchallenging humor, I Can Quit Whenever I Want screens this Sunday (5/31) as part of Panorama Europe, at MoMI in Astoria, Queens.