Doctors of Philosophy everywhere will rejoice at the farcical I Can Quit Whenever I Want, Sydney Sibilia’s hilarious response to the question of how a group of academics and specialists might apply their specialities in the world of crime. The answer is chaotically, entertainingly, and with all the intellectual bickering you'd expect.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Sydney Sibilia
Screenplay: Valerio Attanasio, Andrea Garello, Sydney Sibilia.
Runtime: 100 minutes.
Cast: Edoardo Leo, Valeria Solarino, Valerio Aprea, Paolo Calabresi.
Plot: Pietro, a molecular biologist and university researcher, is promptly fired after a failed grant application and forced to contemplate an impoverished future. Chasing down a student for an outstanding fee, Pietro comes face to face with the underground designer drug market – and has a brilliant idea. Assembling a team of Latin specialists, an anthropologist, archaeologist, fellow chemist, and a host of other unemployed PhDs, Pietro plans to become the new kingpin of nightclub narcotics.
Festival Goers? See it.
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Review: A few years ago, I went to the cinema with a few PhD friends – all scientists – and as I got to the counter, the irritated clerk asked ‘I suppose you’re a science PhD as well?’ Of course not I responded, ‘I’m a Continental philosopher,’ which on hearing this his face lit up and he declared ‘I’m a Continental philosopher too! My thesis was on Kant’s perpetual peace theory … so, would you like popcorn or drinks with that?’ I remember thinking of all the fucking luck; because not only do philosophy PhDs end up working as checkout clerks, there was no way I was going to get a cushy job at that theatre because they already had an expert in European philosophy. Well, unemployed PhDs everywhere rejoice - hilarious revenge is at hand.
There’s isn’t much to Sydney Sibilia’s I Can Quit Whenever I Want (Smetto quando voglio), it’s just obscurely and arcanely funny. Academics around the world will cheer as this hilariously, perfectly matched team of intellectuals take on any member of the intelligentsia’s dream to do it smarter and better if they were in charge. Unfortunately for Pietro (Edoardo Leo) and his unemployed crew of post doctoral fellows, the task of out-thinking the common man they set for themselves is cornering the morally grey area of the designer drug market. Set out in the opening narration, and an overused in media res introduction, Pietro is a molecular biologist down on his luck until he discovers the concept of the quaintly translated ‘illegal molecules list’ – an official list that governs what is and isn’t illegal in the drug world. Figuring he can put his PhD to good use, Pietro devises a variety of ways to manufacture smart and designer drugs that resemble illegal molecules but have not been outlawed yet. His reasoning is dubious – copping to a much lesser charge of distributing unapproved substances – and the outcomes get even more dubious, until the crew find themselves in trouble with both sides of the law in an updated Langian M dilemma.
But Breaking Bad this ain’t; and that’s a good thing. Imagine a room full of Walter Whites, but with much more arcane specialities. Yep, the results are commensurately hilarious. With references to the Hellerian Paradox, Roman auspices, the sword of Damocles, theoretical molecule programs, Napolean’s Italian campaign, and much more, this is a comedy squarely aimed at frustrated intellectuals. Political, incompetent department heads come in for an early beating with Pietro’s boss bungling a grant application, and dispatching a student in the middle of an oral exam with the agreement to give him ‘28 out of 30 to stop breaking my balls!’ Kicked out, due to his boss’ political ineptitude, Pietro recruits colleague and now dishwasher Alberto (Stefano Fresi) to manufacture the drug. ‘Look, I’ll spare you all the lectures on an ethical level, because I abandoned ethics when they kicked me out of the university’ he declaims, and then agrees to join in the plan if they can use a more subtle and sophisticated process to manufacture the drug. Arguing like fellow academics, they are successful and turn to two experts in Latin (currently working at a car wash for ‘Mr. Kahn;’ how do they communicate with him? ‘Well if you know Sanskrit it all falls into place’ they reflect) to help build their distribution network, as well as an archaeologist colleague who has access to a truck. They persuade an economist friend and gambler to come up with a business model and funding; stealing from his gypsy soon-to-be father-law in some of the more amusing scenes of the comedy. He’s only too eager to sell drugs, remarking that ‘you know that all my early training was based on Austrian liberalism.’ In planning the business and securing the money, he states that ‘we’ll begin with a simple Cartesian model,’ which sounded fair enough to me. ‘The greatest minds around and you are living on the fringes of society’ Pietro laments in response.
Finally, they are joined by obliging anthropologist Giorgio (Lorenzo Lavia) – who himself was attempting to desperately secure a job in a less than legal enterprise. (‘Look kid, get some experience, get into some trouble on the streets, then come back to see me’ his shady boss tells him; Giorgio laments that his education is ‘a youthful mistake I regret, I’m willing to renounce my academic qualifications.’ ‘A graduate?’ the crime boss responds, ‘You’re the third one I’ve turned down this week.’) Things go about as well as you would expect for their new enterprise, with the crew flushed with their early successes and cocky. These are the points at which the film excels; slickly shot in green and orange filters with a Michael Bay palette, but openly mocking crime thriller conceits with a Reservoir Dogs-style entrance of the crew to the nightclub, and statements like 'I mean it guys, the exact same lifestyle as before' before a cheeky Gilligan cut to the exact opposite. Their drops get more and more elaborate, making use of a trained dog and some innovative but ridiculous distribution systems that only a bored academic could devise.
When things get desperate, they’re forced to rob a pharmacy with Napoleonic rifles pilfered from the archaeology department basements. Of course they do this with the bayonets still comically attached. Overall, this is a fun film. If you’re exhausted from the post-doc shuffle, sick of applying for grants, or even just academically inclined then this is a film of quiet revenge and comeuppance just for you.
Rating: Three and a half stars.