What do you get when you pair up two of gay filmmakers Pedro Almodóvar’s biggest stars – Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz – with Argentine filmmaking duo Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat?
You get a kooky and quirky, but not quite Almodóvar-esque, black comedy called “Official Competition” (IFC Films).
On the occasion of his 80th birthday, out-of-touch and obscenely wealthy pharma millionaire Suárez (José Luis Gómez) wants to be remembered for doing something special. Perhaps financing and donating a bridge in his name. Better still, he decides to finance a movie with a great director and famous actors.
After paying a fortune for the novel “Rivalry,” he enlists lesbian filmmaker Lola (Cruz) who then casts “prestigious master actor” Iván (Oscar Martínez) and “worldwide star” Felix (Antonio Banderas). The actors will portray competitive brothers Manuel and Pedro, setting up enmity between the actors, as well as the characters, resulting in potentially explosive situations.
Lola, whose hair is a crown of wild red curls that seem to have a life of their own, has a peculiar working style. Her adaptation of the novel transforms the script into a kind of scrapbook, complete with pictures, which is amusing to the audience but frightening to the actors. Additionally, her directing technique includes a series of bizarre acting exercises that only make sense to her. However, she does manage to eke out moments of authentic acting from her lead performers.
While the casting of Suarez’s daughter Diana (Irene Escolar) initially seems like a bad idea, she passes muster following a hilarious kissing scene. But that doesn’t decrease Iván and Felix’s disdain for each other or prevent them from ridiculing each other’s individual acting methods. Pretty soon the trio is enmeshed in a game of one-upmanship, in which they try shocking each other, including a purported cancer diagnosis.
Lola, on the other hand, goes to outrageous extremes (her destruction of their acting awards exemplifies that), to transform the actors. Eventually, Lola, Iván, and Felix begin to increase the competition with each other, resulting in canceled rehearsals, various delays, and hurt feelings.
Then, “Official Competition” takes a sudden serious turn following an unexpected tragedy at an event hosted by Suarez to kick off the movie shoot. It’s almost as if co-directors Cohn and Duprat are working out the process of their movie at the same time as Lola. Also, the astonishing final scene is as unexpected as it is darkly humorous. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of eight books including the poetry chapbook Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.