Sofia Coppola’s eighth feature doesn’t hit theaters for another few months, but you’d be forgiven if you thought it was actually Amanda, writer-director Carolina Cavalli’s darkly humorous, stylish feature debut about an indolent young woman looking for a friend. Consider its opening frame: a little girl lounging alone in a pool while munching on cereal and basking in the afternoon shadow of her bourgeois family’s Italian villa. When she subsequently splashes into the water, nearly drowning in front of her older sister and housekeeper, it’s clear that her brief life of solitary luxury has already thrust an incommunicable existential crisis upon her. You almost expect Stephen Dorff’s absentee father from Somewhere to have been responsible.
Things aren’t much better for Amanda (Benedetta Porcaroli) as a 25-year-old, living independently in her hometown after finishing school in Paris. Instead of taking on the duties of her dysfunctional family’s pharmaceutical business she frequents techno concerts and Saturday-night screenings at her local movie theater, avoiding stares from single men (Cavalli captures comical close-ups of their angular faces) and later scrolling through Internet video chat rooms at the small hotel room where her parents pay for her to live. The only people she converses with are Judy, the family’s longtime maid, and her precocious eight-year-old niece, Stella, serving them complaints about her privileged problems as she gorges on ornate dinners without so much as a thank you.
On the surface, there’s not much to like about this prickly protagonist. She’s blunt, spoiled, petulant, has little ambition. But she’s an idealist, constantly perturbed by the world, perhaps an avatar for a certain Gen-Z demographic raised on screens and nonhuman interactions, forced into a sedentary bubble throughout a pandemic that many are still having trouble escaping. Yet Porcaroli churns those characteristics into something palatable and charming through deadpan delivery, punctuating argumentative moments with goofy idiosyncrasies (like the way her iPhone’s Siri addresses her as “Sexy Mama”) that ease the weight of her character’s predicaments. She has enough charisma to power an entire movie. It’s easy to fall under her spell.
But as Amanda continues complaining about her dwindling social sustenance, her mother eventually enlists the help of her friend Viola (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), whose agoraphobic daughter, Rebecca (Galatéa Bellugi), has refused to leave her bedroom for the last year. Once inseparable as toddlers, the pair recognize a similar obstinance in each other upon reconnecting, and some two decades later learn to bond over their shared familial resentment and isolation. As their relationship builds and becomes alarmingly close, Amanda claims a mysterious condom-seller as her boyfriend outside a rave; later she attempts to purchase and resell a standing fan at an appliance store with her loyalty points; and she eventually becomes obsessed with freeing a lonely white horse tied up at a nearby farm.
These kinds of first-world quirks complement Cavalli’s own funny irregularities––like her interest in symmetrical framing or Amanda’s decision to wear the same outfit every day. They pivot the movie into a diet fantasy, skewing closer to Wes Anderson’s aesthetic and storytelling without bleeding too much into his artifice. It’s a delicate balance, one Cavalli considers in the way she lights grimy industrial spaces with pink and yellow hues, or captures the city’s bleak and cold architecture against its warm blue skies. The juxtapositions––sun-baked beauty littered with shady figures––illuminate Amanda’s fractured perspective. Maybe she has every reason to dart past doorways to avoid visitors and keep within the confines of her family’s verdant property.
Cavalli undercuts these whimsical elements through a few contentious conversations, mostly with Amanda’s traditionally minded sister Marina (Margherita Missoni) and Rebecca’s therapist, who believes Amanda’s borderline personality has grown too attached to her patient––they see Amanda’s lack of purpose as a problem without looking for a solution or diagnosing its source. You can almost sense the movie wanting to downshift into something moodier, more serious, more profound. “Maybe good things didn’t happen to me because I had nobody to talk to,” Amanda suggests at one point. But Cavalli isn’t ready to concede Amanda as some clinical mental-health portrait. She’s made a dark comedy that maintains the buoyant, unpredictable frequency of its lead actor; it’s all the better for it.
Amanda opens on July 7.