At long last we have it. Definitive proof of what was once thought impossible. You can make a mature, sweet romantic comedy that has a healthy attitude about sex and is populated with three-dimensional characters.
Catalina Aguilar Mastretta’s Todos queremos a alguien (Everybody Loves Somebody) is playing to little fanfare at your local multiplex this weekend. It’s being treated as a foreign film, but in reality, it’s anything but. It’s a Spanish/English romantic comedy that dutifully obeys the laws of romantic comedies but gives us characters much smarter and complicated than we’re used to.
Clara (Karla Souza) is a successful ob-gyn who doesn’t believe in love. Well, not for her anyway. She spends her time busy with her work, her family, and her many one night stands. Right off the bat, it’s clear this is a romantic comedy for grown-ups. If you are shocked by the idea of a woman enjoying sex or even the notion of a woman masturbating, then maybe you should check out one of the other movies playing in your theater. Although I feel you’ll need more than a movie recommendation if that turns you off the movie.
Mastretta allows Clara to be a sexually healthy woman without ever punishing her for it. Early on there’s a scene where Clara is forced to walk home in nothing but her underwear and a trench coat. We’ve been conditioned to brace ourselves for some sort of ‘hilarious’ but ultimately humiliating incident in which Clara loses her coat, falls down, or is forced to endure some other public humiliation. To my delight, Clara makes it home unscathed. There is a moment where she stumbles, but that’s because she’s wearing heels and hung over.
Even more surprising is that when Clara enters her house, she is greeted by her mother Eva (Patricia Bernal) and her sister Abby (Tiare Scanda). Eva is trying on her wedding dress. It seems after forty years Clara’s mother and father are finally getting married. Clara reveals she’s been out all night by undoing her coat, and the other women laugh and tell her to get dressed. I was so happy to see the previous scene wasn’t a fluke.
The plot concerns itself with Clara visiting her parents across the border for their wedding, and Clara needing a date. Wouldn’t you know it, there just so happens to be a handsome doctor, Asher (Ben O’Toole) who’s single and perfectly willing to go to Mexico with Clara.
The two hit it off, and sparks start to fly. Studious rom-com viewers will doubtlessly tell you this is where an old fling returns to complicate matters. They would be right. In this case, it’s Clara’s first real love Daniel (Jose Maria Yazpik).
Anyone who’s ever seen a date movie can easily see where this is going. Who will Clara choose? The dashing Aussie, Asher? Or the dark and world traveling ex, Daniel? If you already know then telling you would make no difference and if you don’t know, then you’ll be delightfully surprised.
While the overall structure of the movie won’t win points for originality, it’s what Mastretta does within the lines that make the movie so charming. Unlike most romantic comedies her characters seem to have existed before the beginning of the film. There’s an inner life to some of the characters that would otherwise just be two-dimensional cliches.
The fact that Asher knows Clara is only asking him along for another family outing so that he can act as a backup for Daniel shows he is at the very least as smart as the movie. This is a refreshing change of pace considering most characters in rom-coms are barely smarter than the paper they’re printed on.
The dialogue is charming, even biting at times. Such as when Abby excitedly cries to Clara after their parent’s wedding, “Finally an official document that proves we are not bastards!” Or when Asher says he has a Mexican grandma. Abby’s husband, also white, laughs and says, “The first three times I met the family, I had a Mexican grandmother.”
Alongside the tight and intelligent script, the main reason the movie works so well is Karla Souza. She has an effortless charm about her. Her Clara is a tough, wary, goofy, intelligent woman who knows what she wants until she doesn’t. Souza’s face is expressive as anything I’ve seen in awhile. There’s a comedic fearlessness about her balanced by her ability to ground whatever scene she’s in with a semblance of reality.
The relationship between Clara and Abby is the sort we don’t often see in movies in general. They actually behave as Sisters. They tell each other secrets about their parents and each other. While also at times saying the wrong, even hurtful things, about how the other lives their life.
There’s so much to like about this movie I fear this review will just turn into a litany of moments and quotes. How often do you see a woman chase after the man and make a grand romantic gesture to win his affection? I’ll answer for you, not often enough. Not to say Men are the ones who should be courted. It’s more that a woman with the agency over her own life to make the decision regarding who she ends up with is wonderful to see.
Todos queremos a alguien is devoid of any histrionics or grand melodramatic pay offs, too. The characters are all adults. When someone says something hurtful or mean, they leave, for fear of saying something equally mean. There’s a maturity to the film that’s refreshing in the age of Judd Apatow arrested development comedies.
I won’t say anymore except to say the last scene had me smiling and giggling to myself. How often does that happen? I’ll answer that one for you too, not often enough.