Review of "Lost in Florence"; or, Brett Dalton's and Stana Katic's All-Expenses-Paid Tuscan Vacation
The PR firm for the studio behind the new movie Lost in Florence, Orion, sent out screeners for the movie a month ago, but they forbade reviews of the movie until this past week. Why? Probably because they were worried that critics wouldn’t be kind. Until yesterday, it was hard to really get worked up, though, about a movie that isn’t really there. Lost in Florence is almost certainly what the cast and crew considered to be a great excuse for a vacation to one of Italy’s most scenic regions, but it is also a movie that, at heart, would like to be a documentary about life in and around the city of Dante in the warm early summertime. However, after Donald Trump enacted his immigration restrictions yesterday, leading to chaotic scenes at airports worldwide, the story of an American idiot who assumes that foreign cultures should serve him and his will takes on a somewhat more relevant color as a portrait of American arrogance made by people who think they’re being good global citizens.
Lost in Florence is formally a romantic comedy, though it contains very little romance or comedy. Brett Dalton from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. plays the hero, Eric Lombard, a once and future American football player who came to Florence to visit his cousin, played by Stana Katic of Castle in a minor role that need not have existed. He is also there to propose to his girlfriend. When she refuses, he enters a tailspin of mild lethargy that culminates in his decision to take up the local sport of clacio storico, a type of violent rugby (literally: “historic soccer”) ancestral to modern soccer, played out of what the movie maintains is a perfectly justified masculine quest for glory. His prowess on the field earns him the ridiculous title of Ercole (Hercules) and produces a male-fantasy scenario where two women are competing for his affections. Worse, the movie asks us to believe that in 2014 (when the film was shot) an American athlete would refuse to use both a laptop computer and a smartphone because “I don’t need one,” necessitating a character to fly 5,000 miles (!) to speak with him in person.
The movie’s story is rather straightforward and at times quite dull, but to his credit Dalton gives a livelier, if still somewhat bland, performance than his sometimes-wooden role on S.H.I.E.L.D., and director and writer Evan Oppenheimer makes the city of Florence look warm, inviting (if quite empty), and laden with the charms of romance and history. His film, however, favors beauty over story, and only a certain kind of beauty at that. Perhaps the most emblematic moment of Oppenheimer’s aesthetic comes when Dalton and his Italian love interest are standing in the Piazza della Signoria, before the Palazzo Vecchio. The camera gazes lovingly at the nude statues of Michelangelo’s David (a replica) and Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus and lingers on the face of Dalton, but mostly ignores the girl. Florence is seen throughout in masculine terms, and we are treated to shots of a nude Dalton in the shower and dozens of shirtless young male athletes competing in the arena for a chance at glory. The women are idealized archetypes, mostly without personality traits. Alessandra Mastronardi plays the Italian dream girl, Stephania, but when the movie allows her to have a trait—she wants to be an architect—it crushes it in service of men. She says that architects are unwelcome in Florence because nothing new is built there, so her dream is to leave the city forever. The masculine city and her masculine American he-man make sure that won’t happen.
Since most reviews of the movie will focus on the romance and the sport, I’d like to probe a little deeper into the writer’s thematic confusion. Throughout the movie, Oppenheimer sets up a tension between the static permanence of Florence, trapped in its own history, and the dynamism of the world beyond Florence. Stephania wants to leave Florence to develop new architecture. Eric’s cousin wants to leave Florence to start a family and so her Italian husband can have a better career. Even Eric has better opportunities beyond Florence: law school, a football career, etc. The men within Florence are trapped by circumstance and masculine pride. The players of calcio storico are no longer sure why they compete, but mostly it seems that they think it will help them conform to masculine stereotypes. In a better movie, this identification of Florence as a false paradise fueled by social insecurity might have lent the film a deep and thoughtful undercurrent. Oppenheimer, though, seems oblivious to his own subtext, and so Eric’s decisions at each stage of the film to embed himself deeper into Florence are portrayed as triumph when they are really a tragedy in minor key. The more he tries to become a Florentine, the more he regresses. By the end of the film, he literally tells his ex-girlfriend that he knows that someday he will have a future as a lawyer, but he just wants to hang out shirtless with his bros, play sports with said bros, have lots of sex with an adoring Italian chick, and goof off. Oppenheimer makes arrested adolescence into the epitome of the male experience. We in the audience are expected to cheer.
There was, however, one element of the movie that rang true. Throughout the film, various characters question whether Eric is Italian enough and Florentine enough to play calcio storico for the Santo Spirito team representing one of the city’s quarters. His last name, Lombard, suggests an Italian-American heritage, and as someone who is half-Italian by heritage, I have also faced those questions of whether I am Italian enough to count as a “real” Italian. Eric is emphatically American but wants to be accepted, in a rather ridiculous way, as a “real” Florentine when it suits him (to play ball) because he is living, however temporarily, in his cousin’s Florentine flat. This is one of those films where the white American guy lives out a fantasy in which a foreign culture plays a submissive role as his heroics improve the lives of all the non-Americans. One can see in Eric Lombard a certain type of American fantasy about a world where other cultures prostrate themselves before the American, where the American can do whatever he wants, and the rest of the world is supposed to thank him for it.
At heart, though, Lost in Florence revels in the sights and sounds of the city in the time around the festival of San Giovanni, which is both the festival of the city’s patron saint and the time of the championship calcio storico game. I get the feeling from the amount of time spent just observing parades and scenery and the calcio storico games that Oppenheimer would have preferred to make a documentary about the sport. It would probably have been both more informative and more entertaining.
Lost in Florence was released on January 27.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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