Two’s company. Three’s a crowd. And four? Well, that’s entering the realm of farceor musical comedy.
Those rules don’t apply to everyone, of course. In his 2001 feature, Sex and Lucía, filmmaker Julio Medem arrayed a half-dozen lovers with results that, if not realistic, had a logic all their (or at least Medem’s) own. Now another Spanish director, Emilio Martínez-Lázaro, has decided to dabble in erotic gamesmanship, and his The Other Side of the Bed inevitably recalls Medem’s film, if only because both of them star the luminous Paz Vega. Her appeal hasn’t dimmed, but nearly everything else in this all-singing, all-dancing, all-cheating production is pretty dreary.
Martínez-Lázaro’s somewhat newfangled musical comedy is the first in a four-film series sponsored by the Sundance Channel, which is attempting to pick up where the bankrupt Shooting Gallery left off a couple of years ago, using corporate sponsorship to give overlooked foreign independent movies theatrical openings. It’s too soon to say if Sundance’s choices will be more adventurous than Shooting Gallery’s, but the series’s first offering is not auspicious. Last year’s box-office champ in Spain, The Other Side of the Bed is little more than an R-rated sitcom supplemented with some energetic but extraneous song-and-dance numbers.
The domestic dissonance begins when sleek Paula (Natalia Verbeke) informs doughy Pedro (Guillermo Toledo) that she’s leaving him for an unidentified other man. Paula and Pedro’s best pals, weaselly Javier (Ernesto Alterio) and easygoing Sonia (Vega), try to help, but the viewer soon learns that Javier has a conflict of interest: He’s Paula’s new beau, and the pair aren’t ready to tell their respective significant others. In fact, Javier isn’t even prepared to leave the apartment he shares with Sonia, which understandably becomes an issue with Paula. Then the empathetic Sonia decides to cheer Pedro up, and…
In a miscalculated attempt to make this scenario seem hipper, screenwriter David Serrano has added not one but two gay angles. Javier tries to convince Pedro that Paula has gone back to an old boyfriend, but that guy has since come out of the closet. Meanwhile, Javier becomes increasingly jealous of one of Sonia’s friends, who happens to be a lesbian (and is named Lucia). Far from adding to the film’s cachet, however, these jokes only enhance its mustiness, and they ultimately turn rather nasty. But they’re not much gamier than such characters as Pedro’s blind date from obsessive-compulsive hell, a woman who can’t stop listing things, and the guy Pedro hires to follow Paula, a wacky detective who turns out to bestop them if you’ve heard this beforea JFK-assassination buff.
Punctuating these predictable gags are predictable songs that comment on the action, in such post-Singing in the Rain styles as rap, reggae, and folk-rock. Groups of singers and dancers materialize to twirl and kick their way through tunes such as “Girls Are Warriors,” which are as feeble as the jokes. It was probably these production numbers that spurred Martínez-Lázaro to shoot the film in a widescreen format, but his mundane compositions fail to capitalize on the added cinematic real estate.
As for the sex scenes, they’re more explicit than Hollywood would dare, but ultimately coy or even annoyingly phony. The Other Side of the Bed is a hymn to modern promiscuity that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of various fluidsor the diseases that can be spread by themand all the bed-hopping is designed only to re-establish the status quo. Besides, no movie in which some combination of the charming Sonia and Paula ends up with some combination of the doltish Javier and Pedro can be said to have a happy ending.
In Bollywood movies, song-and-dance numbers are compulsory, regardless of how awkwardly the narrative must be warped to include them. So it was bold of Indian actor Rahul Bose, in his directorial debut, to make a romantic dramedy in which the characters don’t burst into song. Still, Everybody Says I’m Fine!’s script (also Bose’s work) is so incredible that the film might have played more convincingly as a musical.
There is plenty of music in the movie, which has a score by Indo-American tabla virtuoso (and crossover-music MVP) Zakir Hussain. In fact, central character Xen (Rehaan Engineer) is the child of a husband-and-wife record-production team. But Xen has nightmares about recording studios, having watched his parents die in a freak control-room electrocution. As if that weren’t outlandish enough, the incident somehow gave Xen the power to read people’s minds when he touches them. And he touches lots of people, because he runs a hair salon catering to Bombay’s wealthiest, most successful residents (who all speak English exclusively except when talking to their servants).
At least Xen’s clients seem wealthy and successful. The hairdresser, of course, knows better. While cutting her hair, Xen learns that upscale society wife Tanya (Pooja Bhatt) has actually been abandoned by her husband, who took their son and all the money. He also knows that flamboyant Bollywood actor Rage (played by Bose himself in a bit of self-parody) never actually gets the parts he boasts about winning. To his surprise, Xen discovers that he can’t read the thoughts of Niki (Koel Purie), the pretty but acerbic new client in whom he develops a powerful interest. But he gradually determines what’s bothering Niki by reading the thoughts of her father, an imperious politician who’s also a Xen regular.
At first, Everybody Says I’m Fine! seems like a small riff on the notion of hairdressers as amateur psychologists. Unfailingly helpful, Xen uses his powers only for good. He bolsters Rage’s self-esteem and protects Tanya from a jealous matron who wants to expose her secret. He also introduces Bobby and Tina (Sharokh Bharucha and Juneli Aguiar), two college-age kids whose parents would never let them date but who can have a chaste romance inside the sheltering walls of Xen’s salon. (The film doesn’t leave the hairdresser’s often, but what’s out there isn’t pretty: beggars, piles of rubble, and other authentic Bombay landmarks.) The resolution of Niki’s problem, however, takes Xenand the filminto new and problematic territory.
Despite its barely suppressed musical-comedy tendencies, Bose’s movie is anything but a slick entertainment. It’s a messalthough that might not have really struck Indian filmgoers distracted by the sex scene (explicit by Bollywood standards, though shot mostly in facial closeups) and the detour into taboo subject matter (which won’t surprise anyone exposed to a few recent American family dramas). The film can be recommended, but only to those who enjoy odd, overreaching failures: Everybody Says I’m Fine! isn’t deft enough to be simply entertaining, but it is strange enough to be intriguing. CP