Vanity Fair: My Brilliant Friend: A Pair of Proposals, a Pair of Shoes

In Episode 5, Lila is a prize to be won.

On Vanity Fair

Sonia Saraiya – Dec 2, 2018

We’ll be recapping each episode of My Brilliant FriendThis recap is written by someone who has read (and loved) the original books, but there will be no spoilers for future plot points. New episodes are airing Sunday and Monday nights, through December 10.

It feels as if finally My Brilliant Friend has found its groove. “The Shoes” is an episode with propulsion, accelerating through the cast’s teenage years and surveying destruction as it goes. Last week in “La Smarginatura,” I discussed Lila (Gaia Girace)’s expansive, terrifying power; in this hour, we see why she’s afraid of it. Lila’s magnetism—her willpower, despite every sensible reason she has to succumb to despair—draws people toward her, men as diverse as Fascist rich kid Marcello Solara (Elvis Esposito) and Communist, blue-collar Pasquale Peluso (Eduardo Scarpetta). Kudos to both Esposito and Scarpetta, who channel their starstruck admiration for Lila like drowning men being drawn into a whirlpool. The problem for Lila is that she’s at the center as all these men are being whipped around around her.

What I appreciated most about this episode is how much we get to see Lila and Lenù (Margherita Mazzucco) simply talk to each other, as everything around them seems to rattle out of its frame. The episode has two moments where Lila is looking directly at Lenù, eyes narrowed, as Elena disappoints her—or withdraws, or describes the promise that her future holds. But Lila’s expression is blank, restrained, and even, in its way, generous—allowing Elena the future that Lila will not get, and shepherding her along the way with hints about Dido.

To my mind, Girace and Mazzucco don’t have the chemistry that their younger counterparts did. But if their conversations with each other do not reflect easy rapport, perhaps that is the condition of these uncomfortable teenage years, where a friend who is not a demanding man or a disapproving woman is the best companion to hope for. Because throughout the episode, it’s really only Elena who bothers to see Lila as the human she is, even though Elena is guilty of taking advantage of Lila, too, by copying her words on Dido for her Greek essay. At least Elena bothers enough to listen to the quality of her ideas—to the expression of her mind; at least Elena feels enough guilt and recognition to confess this to Lila. Meanwhile, the town around Lila seems intent on devouring her with their interest—savoring the taste of her contributions before ripping her to shreds.

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