If ever someone decries the young people of today for being more entitled, lazy or crass than previous generations, point them toward Federico Fellini’s 1953 film, I Vitelloni. Fellini’s loosely autobiographical tale of aimless twenty-something males didn’t just crystalize a universal phase of young adulthood. It created a genre.
Every movie you’ve seen about young men with more time than direction – from American Graffiti to Mean Streets to Swingers – has its roots in I Vitelloni. The story of five guys navigating theirs angst and their libidos through drinking, mischief and big talk may have grown, much like the later Amarcord, from Fellini’s own life experiences but cinema has proven again and again that this is more than just a personal remembrance.
I Vitelloni is early enough in Fellini that not all of his habits have fully formed. Still, there’s plenty of what audiences will come to expect from the master. The debauchery of the masquerade ball, including a man in drag dancing while wearing a giant papier mache head over his own, bears the hint of the surreal that will define much of his later work. And the theft of an angel statue walks the line between reverence and irreverence where religious iconography is concerned, much like the opening sequence of La Dolce Vita. But you don’t need any academic interest in Fellini at all to enjoy the heck out of I Vitelloni.