Romance, [8 min]
They flirted in Italian 101, now it’s time for Jen and Riley to go out on their first date. But when they run into unwanted leers and hostility from strangers, Jen struggles to find the courage to be herself around Riley.
bright, stylish and highly relatable
Italian 102 is writer/director Emily Gutierrez’s follow up to her short film Italian 101. Alex Vautour and Cassandra Williams reprise their roles as Jen and Riley who were a joy to watch as fun and flirty classmates in Italian 101. We now catch up with them in the latest instalment for their first date and while it gets off to a brilliant start, the new couple are challenged when they receive unwanted attention for holding hands in public. Jen (Vautour) struggles most with the intrusive attention from strangers but thankfully she has the cool and confident Riley (Williams) at her side. Gutierrez has successfully put together a bright, stylish and highly relatable piece here, it’s a wonderful follow-up to Italian 101.
It’s not often that you find writer/directors who manage to excel in both areas, usually they have a stronger suit in one of the two areas and it shows in the final product. Gutierrez, however, defies this. She clearly has a great understanding of story – in the opening scene of Italian 102 Jen and Riley enter a queer café/bookstore and Jen tells Riley that she goes there often. Riley surprisingly exclaims ‘How have I not seen you?’, Jen replies, ‘I sit in the back’ – here Gutierrez has perfectly summed up each character’s personality and comfort level with themselves in only a few lines. Riley is clearly open and confident with herself whereas Jen is shy and still not completely comfortable acknowledging her sexuality publicly.
Later, Gutierrez’s directorial talents shine when Jen and Riley walk in public holding hands and receive unwanted attention from strangers. The first time comes as much of a shock to us, the audience, as it does to Jen and Riley. From the girls walking hand in hand, laughing while upbeat music plays to heighten their giddy mood, Gutierrez slows everything down – painfully so – as we watch a man leer at the girls whilst walking past them. The next time it happens, when an older woman has a reaction to seeing the girls together, Gutierrez shows us a close up of the woman’s face from Jen’s point of view so that we feel every bit of how intrusive and aggressive that seemingly small act is. Gutierrez clearly knows how to make an impact on her audience and put us squarely in her character’s shoes.
I think Gutierrez highlights a very relevant moment here. Haven’t we all had that fear or faced those same looks from strangers, especially when we are newly out? While a lot of us are able to block it out or laugh it off in the moment, I know there are many of us who are affected by it. It can be an unwanted reminder that we stick out, that we don’t always have the same luxury of simply walking outside holding hands with someone we care about. It’s a reminder that there will always be those people who make a point of staring.
Thankfully for Jen and Riley (and the audience!) Gutierrez likes to give her films a happy ending (she’s stated in the past that she’s tired of lesbian movies ending in misery) and Italian 102 definitely delivers. It ends with a kiss as Jen and Riley’s first date continues to be a success despite the unwanted attention of strangers.
For me there’s a lot to love about this film, Vautour and Williams have great chemistry and give natural, genuine performances. They strike a great balance between the nervous/excited energy of a first date and the difficulties of experiencing such intrusive behavior in public. My only critique is that the first few scenes in the bookstore linger a little too long at points but soon enough Gutierrez is quick to pick up the pace and get things moving again.
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This article was written by:
Reviewer, writer and community champion
Jen is a Scottish screenwriter and videographer. She is passionate about bringing the LBTQ+ community together through film and makes a point of championing LBTQ+ talent.