I Can Quit Whenever I Want is like Breaking Bad times seven, but funny.
I Can Quit Whenever I Want ( Smetto quando voglio)Director: Sydney Sibilia
Cast: Edoardo Leo, Valerio Aprea, Stefano Fresi, Paolo Calabresi, Pietro Sermonti, Libero De Rienzo, Valeria Solarino, Neri Marcore, Sergio Solli
The theme for Italian Film Festival 2014 - Chicago, is “Italian Comedy: Then & Now”. The festival runs 21-27 November at the Music Box Theatre. Five of the best Italian films of the year make their Chicago debut at the fest, including an outlandish crime caper (I Can Quit Whenever I Want), a daring black and white debut (The Referee), and a political comedy fronted by Toni Servillo in dual roles (Viva la libertà). The retrospective line-up features rare screenings of Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style (1961) and Seduced and Abandoned (1964) as well as Dino Risi’s 1962 classic The Easy Life. Each film is to be screened twice, offering plenty of chances to take advantage of this annual showcase, which is presented with the cooperation of the Italian Cultural Institute Chicago and Cinecittà Luce.
I Can Quit Whenever I Want ( Smetto quando voglio)
Wherever words are said about I Can Quit Whenever I Want, Sydney Sibilia’s debut comedy feature, two of them are bound to be “Breaking Bad”. But while the Sibilia and his teacher-turned-drug-dealer premise may owe a debt to Vince Gilligan (as he, in turn, does to everything from Once Upon a Time in the West to The Godfather), the first time Italian director subs the biting drama and dark pathos of that treasured American TV series for rapid-fire comedy dialogue and over-the-top farce. It’s a high-stakes comedy by way of Oceans Eleven that throws a bag of crime saga conventions into the mix and backs it all up with some seriously funny writing and a packed ensemble of comedic performers.
A party-rousing opening credit sequence set to the tune of the Offspring’s supremely appropriate track, “Why Don’t You Get A Job” introduces us to Pietro (Edoardo Leo), a 37-year-old out of work biologist who really could use a job. Having recently lost his position as a university research assistant due to funding cuts, Pietro finds he isn’t alone in his desperation. All of his old buddies – cultural and scientific experts who hold doctorate degrees – are similarly hard up for cash, scraping by on minimum wage to make ends meet.
Over-qualified, under-employed, Pietro rounds up the old gang with an idea that’ll put them out of the service industry and into the lab: a top-rate, chemically perfect designer drug. With the likes of a chemist for production, a statistician to run finances, and an anthropologist to navigate the nightclub-based market, I Can Quit Whenever I Want doesn’t find one desperate scientist breaking bad, but seven.
Sibilia’s film is really funny. His primary successes are in the dialogue – particularly the bits where the crew’s scholarly backgrounds get in the way of their criminal image – but Sibilia embraces visual comedy, too, wherever possible. A moment of sorrow in which Pietro is found crying in his room is interrupted by the sudden arrival of his girlfriend, who cuts short both the tears and the film’s artificially sappy score. In another scene that utilizes a fun effect, Pietro first realizes he has the skills to develop a really cool drug, and the world slows around him as he processes the epiphany before winding back up to speed.
Cinematographer Vladan Radovic (Every Blessed Day) shoots these scenes well enough, and knows when to keep the camera static in the midst of chaos, but a lot of his work here is tainted by a colorist that must have been sampling the film’s product during post-production. To say the colors “pop” is an understatement. A super-saturated color grade with a heavy tilt to the yellow-green spectrum works for drug-fueled nighttime scenes, but burns the eyes like a bad hangover during the daytime stuff. The fact that the choice was deliberate doesn’t make it any less ugly.
This visual hiccup is a fair trade, though, for Sibilia’s fresh voice in Italian cinema. He has a knack for using genre tropes to his absolute advantage. There’s just enough distinction to his tale of overly educated delinquents to breathe life into decades-old material. The drug empire is built up and comes crashing down as it has again and again in cinema and on television, and yet the real take-away is one of confident originality. Sibilia is working dangerously close to over-trodden material, but if I Can Quit Whenever I Want can avoid death by comparison, it could be well suited for a North American art house release.
Americans in particular are sure to get a kick out of the commentary on the state of education. One of Pietro’s struggling friends (played by Pietro Sermonti) wanders into a junkyard looking for a job from a gruff manager who has only one rule: no graduates. He tries to lie his way through the interview, but a particularly well-read phrase gives him away. The manager accuses him of being a graduate student, to which he quickly explains, “It’s a youthful mistake I regret!” The satire is increasingly inflated throughout the film, but speaks to a genuine issue in a way that really works.
I Can Quit Whenever I Want won Best Comedy at the Italian Golden Globes and has been a sensation in Italy. Sibilia is a new filmmaker with real promise for international audiences. His first film isn’t perfect, but it’s a bold and genuinely fun-spirited genre comedy that uses a familiar premise to uncommonly successful results.
See I Can Quit Whenever I Want at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois on Monday, 25 November at 5:15pm as part of The Chicago Italian Film Festival.