What a surprise: another Italian film about young women on the brink of adulthood, made by a middle-aged male director. Giuseppe Piccioni’s cliché-riddled “These Days” determinedly sticks to the playbook, trying hard to dress up phony scenes in the guise of realism, without success. The premise alone, about four friends taking a road trip to Belgrade, feels like out-of-touch melodrama convinced it’s “a story of today”: one co-ed is an angry lesbian, another has cancer, a third is pregnant, and the fourth has boyfriend issues. Who is this for, exactly? Surely teens and twentysomethings have had enough of hackneyed characters meant to represent their inner psyche droning on with lines like, “We thought we had our whole lives ahead of us.” Add insufferable humming on the soundtrack, and “These Days” — banality encapsulated in two little words — has its days numbered.
The metaphorical road signs couldn’t be writ in larger letters when, in the first shot, Professor Mariani (Filippo Timi, wasted) lectures his class about the loss of Paradise. Such stupefying unoriginality carries forward in a scene in which Angela (Laura Adriani) reads her friends’ fortunes in votive candles. Piccioni seems to realize he needs to do something different, so he shoots the women looking at the camera while they speak in voice-over — this should strengthen a bond between audience and character, and offer insight into their innermost thoughts, but the device falls flat, largely because plot and dialogue are so false.
Caterina (Marta Gastini) is a sullen lesbian who gets a call from Mina (Mina Djukic) — probably an ex-girlfriend — in Belgrade about a job in hospitality services. The move is the perfect excuse for a road trip with friends as soon as the semester is finished, so Caterina asks Angela, Liliana (Maria Roveran), and Anna (Caterina Le Caselle) to join her on the drive. Each is going through a difficult moment, some more than others. Liliana has just been diagnosed with cancer but she’s not telling anyone, including her single, working-class hairdresser mom (Margherita Buy). Anna is pregnant though not in love with the father of the baby, and Angela is feeling less than inspired, perhaps intimidated, by her dazzlingly handsome boyfriend Valerio (Giulio Corso).
The four women take a car ferry to Montenegro, and then stop at a campsite where Milos and Goran (end credits neglect to pair actors with roles), a couple of nice Serbian peers who act like ingenuous adolescents, declare their love for Liliana and Anna, respectively. Caterina isn’t having any of it, and the Italian quartet continue on to Belgrade, where they join the freezingly hip, chain-smoking Mina for an expected round of cool parties and neighborhood activism.
Meanwhile, Liliana’s Mom finds her daughter’s cancer diagnosis, and tries to keep her inner turmoil in check. Professor Mariani turns up at her door, hesitantly wanting to act on his feelings towards his student — an attraction as poorly developed as it is wildly inappropriate, though the film is oblivious that this might be a problematic development. Then again, few Italian films view intergenerational/student-teacher romances as anything but desirable so long as the older person is male and the younger female.
In recent years, Piccioni’s talents as a craftsman have been knee-capped by problematic scripts (“Giulia Doesn’t Go Out at Night,” “The Life I Want”), though they’ve never been so trite as here. Every element is a stereotype, from the brooding lesbian secretly in love with her best friend, to the distracted single mom, to the whole edge-of-responsibility concept that desperately needs new life injected into it for there to be any reason for another retread. At least Gastini (TV’s “Borgia”), despite the tired, offensively reductionist representation of yet another irate lesbian, has screen presence, which hopefully will be put to better effect in the future.
Handheld lensing is meant to convey a youthful vibe, although technically, the most striking element of “These Days” is the sound design, with over-used voice-over (a raging pandemic in desperate need of a solution). Even more annoying is the recurring humming on the soundtrack.