Carolina Cavalli’s Amanda couldn’t be titled anything else. The protagonist and titular character, 24-year-old Amanda, is the gravitational force that holds this quirky, quietly humorous, and, at times, meandering film together. Portrayed with delightful nuance by Benedetta Porcaroli (The Shadow of the Day), Amanda is a bold, shameless, and frustrating heroine (or perhaps anti-heroine) who continually exposes the fragility of the wealthy society into which she was born. Although she has no job, no friends, and no boyfriend, Amanda lives a privileged life. Her wealthy parents pay her bills while she bounces around feeling sorry for herself and trying to make meaningful connections (with no success). But things change when her mother convinces her to visit an old childhood friend, Rebecca (Galatéa Bellugi), who is struggling with social problems of her own. Amanda is about friendship, family tension, relationships, and growing up, and it’s driven by the powerful and chaotic emotions of a young woman who just wants to matter to someone.
Amanda isn’t exactly what you would call an entertaining movie. It takes its time and requires your full attention. While the movie starts off strong, introducing Amanda in all her quirky glory, the plot doesn’t build much momentum. The movie has a definite beginning, climax, and conclusion, but it jumps to these points via inconsistent rising action. Watching Amanda is like walking through an art gallery or reading a series of poems that are joined together by a common theme. This may not be the most engaging way to structure a story, but it more closely reflects real life. Amanda isn’t trying to tell a story so much as it’s trying to paint a picture of a dynamic and troubling person. That being said, the movie isn’t for everyone. It lacks the drive and energy that many viewers crave in movies. But regardless of how you feel about the pacing, you can’t deny Cavalli’s technical abilities.
In order to make a slow plot work, a movie needs lots of style. As a writer and director, Cavalli has an impeccable style that shines through in Amanda. The film has undeniable Wes Anderson (The French Dispatch) vibes but with much more grunge and decay. The dirty yellow and brown color palette creates a bleak backdrop and sets a depressing tone, which is perfect for Amanda’s melodramatic outlook on life. Amanda’s extreme and borderline emotions are also reflected in the cinematography. Sometimes, the camera is too close for comfort, framing the characters in unflattering ways. At other times, it’s unusually distant, capturing intimate moments from afar. There’s also a dash of surrealist imagery in Amanda. As a reflection of Amanda’s unstable perspective on life, the visuals in the film reach toward a bizarre and absurd dreamworld without actually leaving the real world.
In addition to these visual elements, a huge part of Cavalli’s style is her humor, which arises from bizarre and awkward situations that highlight the fractures in the facade of the upper-class lifestyle. Amanda’s family is undeniably wealthy. They live in a sizable home with a pool, they pay for a housekeeper, and they somehow also manage to continue supporting Amanda (who refuses to work). Amanda’s mother (Monica Nappo), in particular, is a caricature of the social elite. She’s the polar opposite of Amanda, more concerned with keeping up appearances than finding true happiness. She and Amanda butt heads throughout the movie in subtlety humorous encounters. As a free-spirited young person who wants nothing to do with work, Amanda is constantly criticizing and disrupting the social world that her family inhabits. It’s a world of shallow relationships, politeness, maturity, and order. Amanda criticizes this world with snide comments, with sarcasm, and with her very presence. Her family tries so hard to live perfect lives, but Amanda is so obviously imperfect. She’s loud, abrupt, punk-rock, childish, and unashamed. When she walks into a room, the illusion of her family’s life starts to fall apart. From her unconventional attire in the perfectly decorated drawing room to her slouching posture at the dinner table, every part of Amanda disrupts the world that her family lives in. Her disruptiveness is awkward and, in an absurd way, funny.
Porcaroli gives a hilarious performance as Amanda, and her antics are delightful to watch. She works so well in this role because she takes Amanda’s childishness and disruptiveness seriously. Porcaroli isn’t making fun of her character, even though it’s a funny role. She approaches Amanda’s immature conflicts and concerns like they’re real-world, serious issues. Porcaroli takes all of Amanda’s actions seriously, whether she’s trying to develop a convoluted plan to make money or giving her very young niece romantic advice. She creates a character who is totally full of herself, totally confident, and totally oblivious to her own immaturity. The result is quite humorous. Perhaps it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s delightfully amusing. However, Amanda’s charming childishness can only get her so far in the adult world. In each of these humorous scenes, there’s also tension between Amanda and her family. The more that she disrupts the world around her, the less humorous things become. In order to continue living the way she does, Amanda must rely on the adults that she criticizes to continue living the way they do. The irony becomes more and more apparent with each scene, creating a subtle driving force that supports the film’s slow pace.
This tension isn’t confined to the internal world of the film. Amanda creates tension for the viewers as well. Amanda is quick-witted and charming, and we want to like her. We see the injustice and hypocrisy of the world around her, and we want her to succeed in spite of that hypocrisy. But at the same time, we want her to grow up. To any adult who’s living the in real world and working for a living, Amanda will no doubt come across as a spoiled, annoying, and immature child who, as her sister points out, has never had to deal with a real problem. But perhaps there’s a small part of each of us that secretly wants to be a spoiled child and never have to deal with another “real” problem again. As a character, Amanda is a fantasy and an indulgence. She does what we as adults cannot do in our everyday lives: let our emotions have free reign, indulge in the melodramatic, and become the center of the universe. Amanda is the poster child for main-character energy, and she wears it (much like her signature crochet vest) quite well.
Opens theatrically July 7 2023 in NYC (IFC Center) and L.A. (Laemmle Royal).
For more information, head to the official Oscilloscope Films Amanda webpage.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.