REVIEW: Small Scope, Huge Rewards; Campanella's "Son of the Bride"
by Brandon Judell
(indieWIRE/03.21.02) -- With some folks, familiarity breeds contempt. Florida-based politicians, meter maids, moms, and certain high colonicists probably are at the top of the list. With most movie or TV actors, it's quite the opposite. Familiarity breeds an instant acceptance of whatever role they've now taken on. Take Ray Romano. People who've watched "Everyone Loves Raymond" for years now not only adore the guy, they think he has talent.
There have been exceptions to this rule. Pauly Shore. Julia Ormond. Judd Nelson. And recently the interesting case of Robert De Niro, who's wiped out much of the good will audiences have felt toward him in the past.
After the brain-damaging "15 Minutes" and the atrocious "Showtime," DeNiro's legions of fans are going to be wary about being taken in as idiots once again. Seldom has a first-rate actor at the height of his success taken on such crap with open arms unnecessarily. Kevin Costner, yes. Robert Redford just makes boring films but not trash. But DeNiro, you've got to be kidding.
Which brings us to Ricardo Darín and his star turn in the Oscar nominated "Son of the Bride," the latest effort from Argentinean director Juan José Campanella. Darín plays Rafael Belvedere, a middle-aged, highly successful restaurateur who's becoming an orderly madman because of Argentina's faltering economy. In the last two years, his profit margins have shrunk 5 percent. One of his employees has played shenanigans with a bank deposit so there isn't money for wine. No wonder Rafael hollers into his omnipresent cellular phone, "Fuck Chase Manhattan and fuck Rockefeller!" And worse, the desserts taste bitter because he's mandated that the chef no longer use the more expensive mascarpone as an ingredient. This is success?
Now divorced because of his obsessiveness, you'd think the guy would finally have some free time to socialize, but his cellular phone keeps ringing and ringing, interrupting his copulations with his sexy young girlfriend, making him forget to pick up his daughter at school, and ravaging any intimacy he has with his dad or his mom who's suffering from Alzheimer's disease and is at present in a home.
But finally the overexertion of trying to run a peerless eatery accomplishes what the anguished looks on the faces of his friends and loved ones could never do. Rafael has a heart attack and straightaway becomes a new man. Not a less selfish one immediately, but one who wants to taste life first hand, life not served up on a plate with a sprig of parsley on the side.
The first time I attended "Son of the Bride," I was smitten with the supporting characters and their plots. Hector Alterio and Norma Aleandro, both of whom you've encountered in "The Official Story," are letter-perfect as Nino and Norma, the elderly, still-in-love couple who've never had a church wedding. Now Nino's trying to correct that lapse after 44 years, but with not much help from the church. Then Natalia Verbeke as the neglected galpal ("I even quit therapy so I wouldn't stop loving you."), Eduardo Blanco as Rafael's comic childhood friend with whom he used to play Zorro.
But blue-eyed Darín left me unmoved. And with a vacuum in the center, I wondered why "Son of the Bride" received a nomination for best foreign film. It seemed slightly treacly. Possibly I felt like an Ethiopian encountering Paul Newman for the very first time in "Harry and Son" or "The Secret War of Harry Frigg." -- "So what's the big deal? The guy's salad dressing has more charisma." But without having spent time with the Newman of "Hud," the Newman of "The Hustler," and the Newman of "Cool Hand Luke," you might have agreed with the Ethiopian.
To be fair, I went back and saw Darín's other new release "Nine Queens" twice and then sat through "Son of the Bride" a second time. The result: I was no longer watching "Moonstruck Lite."
Darín's performance, which seemed solid but unmoving at first, now resonated with humor, bitterness, grief, and a recognizable frenziedness. He plays scenes lightly. Whether he's crying over his daughter's poems or warning her, "Don't bust my balls! I can't get a divorce from you," Darín never gushes even when his character's gushing. His restraint might have fooled me.
But with what I now realized was a superb main performance, "Son of the Bride" falls together. Rafael is a man fighting to survive as a solo entity (a corporation is trying to buy him) in both his professional and emotional worlds. He learns the hard way that no man is an island; mother, even one without a memory, knows best; and that sometime you can give Big Business the finger and still get that digit back.
Beautifully shot by Daniel Shulman, well-edited by Camilo Antolini, and entertainingly written by Campanella and Fernando Castets, "Son of the Bride" traverses no new ground, but as I learned it's ground well-worth revisiting. The scope is small, but the rewards huge.