Reviewed for the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
Prior to one of the most frustrating Q&A segments I’ve ever faced — of which the first audience question was “are you straight or gay” to its lead actor — I sat through a rather pleasant treat of a movie. Having followed an afternoon of actual Eurovision Finals though, where a brilliant performer achieved a very deserved win, Cupcakes didn’t quite live up to just how fun the real event it’s based on really is.
As light and fluffy as the title implies, Cupcakes toys with Eurovision by having a group of neighbors who write a simple song to cheer up a friend chosen to represent Israel at the competition. Of course, in this case, it’s Universong, but it all remains pretty similar. For those who aren’t aware of the competition’s rules: after a night of camp and extravagant (and sometimes embarrassing) performances, points are awarded by each nation (1-6, 8, 10, and 12 to each song/country) until a winner is found. Needless to say, everyone strives to either win or to make a memorable performance, often accompanied by baffling camerawork and costumes.
Watching the film, it’s unsure as to whether writer/director Eytan Fox and co-writer Eli Bijaoui harbor ill-will towards Eurovision, given the way that they present both the showrunners and competitors solely as people uninterested in real feeling, but rather just crazy looks and ratings. The catchy and sweet tune written for their down-on-her-luck friend that gives them their big break, “A Song for Anat,” (written by Scissor Sisters’ Babydaddy) is butchered and morphed into a sloppy electro-pop tune by Israeli backers. It’s a clear commentary on how a country is willing to toss aside something genuine for the sake of making a big show and shoving its performers into outfits more over the top than you’d find in The Hunger Games. As much as the critique of Eurovision is sometimes on point, the film doesn’t totally capture just how much the competition brings people together.
What the film does bring together though is the five-woman-one-man group of neighbors, which is easily its most charming feature. Whether it’s banding together to cheer up a down friend, getting excited over romantic prospects, or simply singing along to random pop tunes and former Eurovision songs, it’s delightful to watch them interact. You have the popular blogger, the tired housewife, the queer musician, the aspiring politician, the beauty queen turned lawyer, and the man dating a closeted hummus poster boy. They may not sound like much, but they pop on screen. Fox and Bijaoui give just enough of a glimpse into each of their lives to care about them, but it would have been nice to see more of a few that seemed to get all but entirely excluded by the end, as well as seen some different outcomes for its lead character.
Cupcakes doesn’t totally achieve the delight that watching Eurovision might (and the inclusion of some typo-laden subtitles at my screening didn’t help the experience), but considering just how much it is influenced by the traditions of the musical comedy genre, there’s a lot of fun to be had regardless.
Cupcakes was the opening night film at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival on May 10th.
Directed by Eytan Fox; written by Eli Bijaoui & Eytan Fox; starring Efrat Dor, Dana Ivgy, Keren Berger, Ofer Shechter, Yael Bar-Zohar, and Anat Waxman; 92 minutes.