Thursday, October 4, 2007

Week 18: Volver

I'll be honest here. I don't know if Penelope Cruz is a good actress or not. Part of me thinks she is. But a bigger part of me thinks she's just really pretty and so it's hard not to like her. She's very, very pretty. And that's not a bad thing as an actress. But is it enough? I'm wondering what separates her from the dozens of other stunners slogging away on bad Telemundo soap operas. Does she really have chops?

I have a theory that if she was even slightly homely, no one would ever cast her in an English-speaking role, period. She'd annoy the crap out of everyone with her little-girl way of speaking. But in a Spanish film, it's harder for me to make that judgement. It's hard to be annoying in subtitles.

It probably doesn't matter anyway, because she IS pretty. And she IS charming. In Volver, she practically charms the lens off the camera. Which isn't really hard to do given that this is a really amusing little movie that treats death with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. It's sort of like Amelie with a death wish.

In Volver, Cruz plays a frazzled mother working three jobs to support her daughter and laze-about husband, yet she still manages to look fresh-faced and sexily unkempt, rather than dreary-eyed and haggard like any real person would in such circumstances. But I digress.

Her daughter accidentally kills her lecherous husband when he tries to molest her, and right around the same time, the spirit of Cruz's dead mother starts making appearances. Add one dead body to a convenient nearby restaurant freezer and hilarity ensues. Even though the situations are sometimes campy and predictable, Volver is overwhelmingly charming and the characters are adorable and charismatic. Maybe this was director Pedro Almodovar's love song to the women of his country.

I am still raising one eyebrow at the fact that Penelope Cruz got an Oscar nom for her role in Volver, but a bigger, perhaps better part of me, is just grateful it wasn't J. Lo. We can all breathe a sigh of relief there.

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