Sure, flight attendants are every man's fantasy. Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger just didn't know that handing them poo in a bag was the ticket to win their hearts.
"I must say, it's Alfonso's fault that I got involved in all this. I was holding hands with my sweetheart named Literature. We were like nervous, sweaty-palmed lovers. Then this guy introduced me to this whore called Cinema and she gave such great head that I stayed with her."—Carlos Cuarón
Sometimes it doesn't take a crystal ball to realize that a director is going to make a splash. When Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón followed up his inoffensive American films A Little Princess and Great Expectations with the ground-shaking, sex-drenched Y Tu Mamá También, the world took notice. When he went on to reinvent the tone and direction of the blockbuster Harry Potter franchise, his status was cemented. Can Alfonso Cuarón do any wrong?
Facts of the Case
Tomás Tomás (Daniel Giménez Cacho, Innocent Voices) is an incorrigible womanizer. He doesn't use condoms, he's never monogamous, and he often drives his bed partners away in a huff. Despite this character flaw, his neighbors Mateo Mateos (Luis de Icaza, Dark Cities) and Teresa de Teresa (Astrid Hadad) are good friends with the funny, creative Tomás. In fact, Mateo is his doctor, and passes up no opportunity to needle Tomás with dire warnings about the health effects of casual sex.
Before we know it, Tomás has fallen into bed with Mateo's nurse, Silvia Silva (Dobrina Liubomirova, City of the Blind). The problem is, Tomás agreed to let his boss, Gloria Gold (Isabel Benet, Conjugal Life), stop by—and she wants a little action when she gets there. When Silvia learns of his treachery, she gets revenge on Tomás with a cruel forgery.
The timing couldn't be worse. Tomás has just fallen in love for the first time with another comely neighbor, Clarisa Negrete (Claudia Ramírez, Streeters ). He digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole, alienating Clarisa through a series of absurd pratfalls. Only Silvia can bail him out by revealing her hoax. Will she be in time?
If you mind spoilers about the ending of this whimsical sex romp, best move on to the next paragraph. The movie climaxes at the tip-top of the Latin American Tower on a cold, clear night. Clarisa stands resolute, clutching the hand of Tomás. She has just interrupted Tomás, who was trying to commit suicide by frying his head in a microwave oven. He has recently given her a bag of his own feces. No matter what weirdness, or blandness, came before it, this bizarre ending is riveting. The nuances are all there: Clarisa's lip trembling in the cold. The new light of wisdom and self-loathing in the eyes of Tomás. The spotless, impossibly white sheen of Clarisa's silk panties as they drift down into the street. Cuarón has achieved a poignant, dramatic—and yes, powerfully romantic—moment out of absurdity. This is perhaps the clearest indicator of his directorial prowess.
At face value, Solo Con Tu Pareja is a capable sex farce with a highly creative spin that is derailed by uneven pacing and a handful of clichés. It has funny moments, though some of its "big" moments fall flat. It has absurdity, though some of its frivolity is forced. Nonetheless, the movie is a success given the low expectations of the genre. The scale tipper is a fresh, energetic cast that is able to play a quirky ensemble with zest and moments of convincing emotion.
The real joy in watching Solo Con Tu Pareja now, fifteen years after its release, is spotting the signs that point towards Cuarón's future career. Aside from the aforementioned climax, the best moments in Solo Con Tu Pareja are the small scenes; the glue that binds the uneven narrative. Here Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shine. When Clarisa and Teresa de Teresa are both driving to reach the apartment complex, we're treated to a bird's eye view of the street. Clarisa's impossibly yellow VW bug explodes over the dark pavement. Its seductive curves draw in the eye. This scene would be a throwaway in other hands. Clarisa would simply pull up to the curve and get out. But Cuarón and Lubezki turn this scene into something stunning and meaningful. The same loving grace defines the majestic structure of plane wings at the airport, and sweeps around the spire of the skyscraper in a dizzying panorama. These creative angles are a little show-offish, but they work well. Again, in other hands these would be "tricks" or hyper stylization.
Cuarón does rely on well-worn clichés to drum up tension, which drains the buildup of some of its interest. For example, Tomás keeps brushing up beside the slip of paper that has some bad news for him, but he doesn't read it before we become bored with the coincidences. When he finally does, his reaction is drawn out and unsurprising.
These are minor setbacks, however. For every stalled plotline and predictable character reaction, there are many deft creative touches that highlight Cuarón's skill. From the moody palette of jewel tones and deep blacks to the creative use of simple props (such as conical drinking cups that Tomás crushes underfoot), Cuarón displays his confidence and sure-footed approach. Solo Con Tu Pareja feels much bigger than its budget, more artistic than its material. You can see where a similarly moody palette would up the ante for the darkest Harry Potter movie, and glean how Cuarón's brazen approach would make Y Tu Mamá También so piercing.
Cuarón's gift for social commentary is here in rough form. His spoof of a jalapeño commercial featuring half-naked Aztecs is absurd to the point of hilarity. He emphasizes shallowness without dwelling on the obvious. Later, he succinctly presents a psychologically dense dream sequence with a minimum of special effects. A scene where Silvia draws blood from Tomás with sadistic glee is almost feral in its sexual potency. The movie itself is uneven, but spotting signs of Cuarón's skill kept me entertained throughout.
Criterion's take follows along those same lines. Their package of extras emphasizes Cuarón's roots, providing us an even richer perspective on where he comes from as a filmmaker. The "making of" interview featuring the Cuarón brothers and lead actor Daniel Giménez Cacho is a benchmark. The interviewees are funny and engaging, getting to the heart of the film's genesis without the distractions of self-congratulatory back patting. Alfonso is direct and intense, while Carlos is thoughtful with an impish sense of humor. Daniel Giménez Cacho's earnest praise supplements an already fantastic interview.
Their collaborative strengths are highlighted in the short films. Alfonso's Quartet for the End of Time is despondent and stark, with lots of fatalistic imagery that would be echoed in the ending moments of Solo Con Tu Pareja. Carlos brings us the decidedly lighter, upbeat Wedding Night, which hits fast and exits with a sly wink. Their collaboration on Solo Con Tu Pareja gives us the best of their talents, even if the gestalt is not seamless.
It probably goes without saying that Criterion has presented the film faithfully through a dark, but detailed, transfer that maintains Lubezki's precise compositions. The stereo track has pleasing fidelity and enough range to carry both classical music and rowdy bar scenes.
Few directors are as versatile, yet cohesive, as Alfonso Cuarón. In a short span of time, he has delivered huge hits in both Mexico and the U.S. spanning genres and target audiences. Whether doing an American adaptation of children's lit or a scathing commentary on Mexican nationalism and sexual mores, Cuarón is simultaneously direct and baroque. This DVD presents a rewarding look at one of his earliest defining films, and gives great hope for his future efforts.
Not a home run, but Alfonso gets at least to second base.
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• "Making Solo con tu pareja" interview featurette
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