Sunday, August 29, 2010

Me Too **1/2

Director: Antonio Naharro, Alvaro Pastor
Cast: Lola Dueñas, Pablo Pineda
Isabel García Lorca, Pedro Alvarez-Ossorio, Antonio Naharro
María Bravo, Lourdes Naharro, Daniel Parejo, Catalina Lladó

Films about people with disabilities, mental disorders and all other assortment of "different" qualities, have already won half the battle by dealing with these subjects (See? Even the word "won" seems politically incorrect placed there).
Such films, even those of the lowest quality, can brag about dealing with tough subjects and sparking conversation and debate among the audience.
And how could they not, if we live in a world where the slightest mention of "being different" brings out opinions from everyone.
These movies are also usually relieved of dealing with artistic criticism in the way other projects are, since it becomes impossible to discuss them without turning the disability into a main focal point. Just think about how differently we would perceive the Mona Lisa if we knew she had a terminal disease when she sat down to be painted or how many actors would be award-less if they hadn't played someone with a disability.
In the case of Me Too, the disability is Down's syndrome, the sufferer is Daniel (Pineda), a thirty-something from Seville, who graduated college and leads an almost traditional life despite his condition.
Daniel starts working at the Andalucía Board where he meets and falls in love with Laura (Dueñas), a promiscuous, hard drinking, social worker from Madrid.
Their friendship becomes controversial in the eyes of others. Their co-workers, most of whom refer to Daniel as a "kid", think Laura is just a cock-tease who will leave him empty, while Daniel's overprotective mother (García Lorca) wishes her son would adapt to his condition and begins to regret the way she brought him up.
It's one of those "against all odds" stories we've seen before with the added disadvantage of a chromosomal disorder.
The best thing the movie has going for it, is the fact that it tries-hard and selfconsciously- to make Daniel seem "normal" (this is the word used throughout the movie) and Pineda's charm makes this work to a certain degree.
The actor is known for his personal achievements in the face of adversity, so perhaps he's playing a version of himself in the film. Still, this doesn't diminish his chemistry with the other actors and his interaction with the camera.
He turns Daniel into someone funny and real. He's rarely condescending towards himself and because of this makes it hard for other characters to do so.
Yet despite his best efforts to look past Down's syndrome, the movie often reduces his character's essence to how the disorder affects him and somehow it's impossible to ask, how could it not?
Whenever Daniel does something remarkable, you're almost automatically driven to think he's doing it despite his condition and when he fails, it's hard not to attribute this to the syndrome as well.
His entire character arc is based on a Catch 22 that makes it hard for him to achieve what he wants. But the major flaw in Me Too isn't that it does this with Daniel but that it also does it with Laura.
Instead of letting her become her own, obviously flawed, person, towards the end of the movie we receive a facile explanation to make us understand why Laura fears emotions so much. In a way they compare her emotional insensitivity to Down's syndrome.
It's fortunate for Laura that she is played with such conviction by the wonderful Dueñas though, despite the writing flaws and the filmmaker's tendency to patronize her, she turns Laura into a real force of nature.
The actress plays with her greatest qualities to make Laura someone completely irresistible. Watching her move to the music in a club and then squirm after a random sexual encounter is enough for us to understand who she is. We don't need to know her entire past, and much less have it read to us (quite literally too).
A lot can be said by the mere fact that Laura is often more moving than Daniel. She is so damaged, and often damaging, that her character is the one that stays with you after the credits start rolling.
Unlike Daniel whose pain seems more superfluous (because we never know if his ability to get over things is because of the syndrome or because of his personality...or if these two even are connected) Laura's is more affecting because it will move on with her.
That Dueñas is able of "stealing" the film from someone with a disability pretty much defines what your post-theater debate will consist of.

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