Another year at the Miami International Film Festival begins and with it come more films to write capsules of! Nobody wants a long speech, so here are reviews of two of the first films I saw for the festival (not including those covered for the Miami New Times, which will be linked to in the following installment of these).
My Big Night
Watching a Spanish film that features Raphael in a supporting role with a primarily Spanish-speaking audience (including yourself) seems like the ideal scenario to watch My Big Night (Mi Gran Noche) and it was! It’s impossible imagining the massive staged party scene that opens the film – with all its gorgeous lighting, set design, choreography, and the flurry of editing that brings it all together – anywhere but a massive screen. And My Big Night sustains that energy for a fair amount of time. Every actor in the film makes the most out of Álex de la Iglesia & Jorge Guerricaechevarría’s script here, and their fast-paced delivery never feels off (though folks who need English subtitles might find themselves at a disadvantage with some jokes lost in translation).
Ridiculous is the best word to describe the film at hand (as per usual with de la Iglesia): an ensemble feature about a TV taping for a New Year’s Eve program that keeps going horribly wrong. The sheer wackiness of it all is kind of wonderfully sustained for the first forty-five minutes or so, but after the coke high comes the crash and My Big Night takes its sweet time to crash in the back half. Worse though is Álex de la Iglesia’s insistence on self-awareness (Raphael’s role in particular, using his own songs and all) in a film that doesn’t always seem so self-aware. It’s worst quality is its treatment of women – they’re portrayed as conniving sluts and wives who are beaten and threatened, bad-or-good luck charms for the men that surround them, or frumpy women who don’t care about the men around them – making them rather stupid even though it poorly attempts to comment on how women are given the shaft when compared to their male partners.
Maybe it’s because I’ve grown too accustomed to having well-developed male and female characters in Pedro Almodóvar comedies, which even at their weakest never manage to offend or grow outright boring, but My Big Night just ends up being a pretty alright film that could, and should, have been as riveting as its opening number was.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest feature is about single folks who have to find a romantic partner in a hotel within 45 days or else they’ll be transformed into the animal of their choice. It’s an interesting concept, no doubt, particularly in an era when dating apps are so rampant and love life decisions are made on a whim and by two people sharing one mutual trait. That’s exactly what Lanthimos is critiquing here, in a realm where people are willing to do almost anything to share traits: spontaneous nosebleeds, lack of affection, near-sightedness, etc. One trait means you’re meant to be, and that’s pretty goddamn hilarious.
And Lanthimos’ film is an uproarious dark comedy for its first act that turns into a genuine romance in the second while never losing site of its humor. Performances from the ensemble as a whole work excellently, but it’s Colin Farrell’s precious bumbling and Rachel Weisz’s warmth in a film that’s otherwise rather cold that ground everything happening. The cinematography simultaneously keeps the audience at arm’s length while allowing the romance unfolding before their eyes to draw them in. While some may bemoan the tonal shift between acts, the film’s last shot only strengthens everything that came before: as humorous and draining as dating can be, dealing with “true love” is the same, only harder.
It’s an always worrisome endeavor to take on a filmmaker’s first film outside their native tongue, but The Lobster has no issues there. Lanthimos’ direction and writing is as strong as it was with Dogtooth (if not even more riveting and accessible for some due to the casting/language). Good luck finding a film as interesting and complete as this throughout the rest of the year folks.