Tuesday Streaming Pick: "Official Competition"
In the mood for a silly, starry Spanish comedy?
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Quick pick for a humid Tuesday: “Official Competition” (*** stars out of ****) comes to video on demand today as an inexpensive rental on Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play. You know how most of the foreign language movies we get in the US are weighty, meaningful dramas? This one isn’t that. This one’s enjoyably silly. It’s from Spain, so therefore it stars Penélope Cruz – I think this is a national export law, or something – as Lola, a cutting-edge (read: screamingly pretentious) film director who’s hired by an aging millionaire (José Luis Gómez) anxious to leave something behind as a legacy. (It’s that or a bridge.) Given a hit novel to adapt – about two brothers locked in mutual hatred – and an unlimited budget, she casts Ívan (Oscar Martinez), the most respected theater actor of his generation, and Félix (Antonio Banderas), a movie star and sex symbol of the wattage of, well, Antonio Banderas.
That’s the setup: Three egos on a merry-go-round. While “Official Competition” is visually rather static – most of the scenes are rehearsals taking place in the millionaire’s cultural center, a brutalist and unpatronized architectural whatsit – the interplay between the three leads is delicious, especially if you’ve spent any time around actors. Martinez plays the stage thespian as an intellectual prig, while Banderas has enormous fun as the lazy stud of a film idol. Ívan is smart but not clever, Félix is dumb but sly, and both men have competitive streaks that evolve from tit-for-tat mind games into “Sleuth”-like levels of psych-outs. And both are left agog by their director’s studiously avant-garde approach to getting her actors into character (see photo above). I’d say it’s nice to see Cruz let her hair down for a comedy, but she has actually teased it up into a magnificent, ever-expanding halo of neurotic frizz – Lola’s her own storm cloud. Almódovar it ain’t (the directors are Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat), and “Official Competition” is more of an amuse-bouche than a full meal, but the cast treats the whole thing as if they’re on vacation, and maybe should you, too.
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