City Paper is not for tourists
How to pull off a guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner burlesque in which the hosts are Jewish and the potential son-in-law is Palestinian? First, move the action as far from Israel—or the United States—as conceptually possible. Husband-and-wife writer-directors Teresa de Pelegri and Dominic Harari are based in Spain, and they’ve set this largely engaging culture-clash comedy in Madrid. That might be sufficiently distant from the West Bank to forestall hostilities, if only one of Leni’s relatives hadn’t just decided to become ultra-Orthodox. The family apartment is already packed before the arrival of the happy, if anxious, new couple of TV hostess Leni (Marián Aguilera) and college professor Rafi (The Perfect Crime’s Guillermo Toledo). There’s the neurotic, sex-starved mom (the great Norma Aleandro); the older sister, a promiscuous belly dancer, and her high-strung young daughter; a younger brother who’s just started taking his ancestral religion very seriously; a blind, gun-toting grandpa who fought the Palestinians back in ’48; and a convalescent duckling whose bandaged wing is a metaphor for everybody’s wounds. Not on the premises is Dad, whose absence becomes a major issue and ultimately sends what initially looks like a one-set scenario into the streets. This 2004 farce, which has dawdled on its way to D.C., has a few tone-deaf elements, notably a subplot in which Rafi worries that the injured man left sprawled on the sidewalk might be his potential father-in-law. His and Leni’s response to the possible demise of this character, brained by a weapon worthy of Hitchcock’s lighter moments, is too perverse for the film’s otherwise hopeful outlook. The couple’s final meltdown also seems contrived, but then finding the pleasure in contrivance is the key to enjoying such screwball fare. Pelegri and Harari have cleverly structured their script, making every improbable event necessary by linking it to a subsequent one. When all the doors have slammed and all the misconceptions have been dispelled, only one question nags: What happened to the duckling?