Review by Sean Boelman
A movie starring two of the greatest actors alive right now, Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, that is itself a satire on the type of movies that they made their names on, should be an automatic win. Unfortunately, Official Competition never quite comes together and ends up feeling more pretentious than the art and artists it is trying to poke at.
The movie follows a filmmaker and two actors who get involved in behind-the-scenes drama on a film funded by a wealthy businessman. It’s an intriguing premise in a way akin to The Producers — a satirical take on the entertainment industry making fun of its pompousness — but the movie is missing the down-to-earth feel that would have been necessary to make it work.
Instead, what we get is essentially a series of vignettes of a group of characters making an exaggerated “art film”. And while the movie does nail some of the issues of the industry on their head, it also falls short in other ways. Perhaps the most damning mistake the film makes is only being accessible to the people it is making fun of.
Indeed, although it is understandable why the filmmakers took such an unorthodox approach to pacing the movie, it’s much harder to get absorbed in this than it should be. Even for someone who is personally invested in the world that is being satirized in the film, it’s a bit difficult to get fully absorbed in the story.
Part of the reason why the movie doesn’t work is that the characters are completely unapproachable. They are clearly meant to be caricatures of the type of people who find themselves in this sector of the industry, but in amplifying their ridiculous tendencies, they also end up eliminating their endearing qualities.
Still, even if the characters themselves aren’t very likable, the performances are top-notch. Banderas is working at full caliber here, giving a performance that is so absurd that it makes up for the script’s lack of hilarity. Cruz’s performance is much more grounded and could have been more playful, but is strong nevertheless.
Directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat do a great job of making a film that is shallowly beautiful to watch. And while it is a perfect replication of the movies that it is making fun of, its shallow nature makes it feels as if the glossiness is little more than a distraction from the lack of substance.
Official Competition should have been a slam dunk of a film given the concept and talent involved, but it’s unfortunately rather underwhelming. In trying to make fun of something pretentious, it ends up becoming exactly the thing it ridicules.
Official Competition hits theaters on June 17.