Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Film Review: Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

"Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown" *** (out of ****)

Men are nothing but trouble for women. At least that's what Pedro Almodovar says in his world-wide hit, "Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown" (1988).

The "breakdown" referred to in the film's title, which these women face, is caused by men. Men who emotionally manipulated these women. These women were victims to their partner's insensitivity.

The film, as I said, was directed by Pedro Almodovar. Perhaps the most popular Spanish filmmaker today. You could call him the George Cukor of Spain. Cukor, that great Hungarian-American filmmaker, best known for titles such as "The Philadelphia Story" (1940) and "The Women" (1939) was often called "the women's director", due to his directing all the major female stars of the day. Almodovar is also a "women's director" due to the fact his films usually center around female characters and are told from a female's perspective.

And that leads me to one of my problems with "Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown". The film seems to be the most cliche-ridden movie I have seen from Almodovar. The movie engages in all sort of female stereotypes. The fiery Latin lover, the indecisive woman, women who are emotionally unstable, women who are always the victim of a man's cruelty, women are portrayed as damsels in distress. Yes, it's true, the movie has a tongue-in-cheek tone but Almodovar usually is kinder in his portrayal of women. I find the women in films like "All About My Mother" (1999) or "Volver" (2006) to be much stronger. More independent. In "Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown" their happiness or sadness all relies on a man.

It might be strange for some readers to understand why I, a man, am making a point of this. Why would these stereotypes bother me? I grew up in a house surrounded by women. I have first hand knowledge that women can be strong, commanding, demanding, and yes, sometimes annoying. But, women are not always the victim of men's behavior. Many women are strong and independent.

Almodovar's film revolves around Pepa (Carmen Maura, who has acted in other Almodovar films such as "Matador" (1986) and "Volver"). She was the mistress of Ivan (Fernando Guillen), who has tossed her aside of another woman. Pepa cannot deal with Ivan's rejection and demands to speak to him. Problem is, he won't answer her calls. She goes into a rage, nearly destroying her apartment. Next we have Candela (Maria Barranco). Probably the most annoying character in the movie. She suspects she has slept with a terrorist who is going to blow up a plane. Candela is a whiny, needy woman, who constantly turns to Pepa for help and guidance. And lastly there is Lucia (Julieta Serrano). She is Ivan's husband, and because of his cheating ways ended up in a sanitarium.

All of these women will meet in the course of the film. And each of them will have to resolve their issues with men. But, perhaps now, with me briefly describing the plot, you can see the female cliches Almodovar engages in.

And just so the female viewers don't get too bored (or perhaps even offended) Almodovar throws some eye candy their way. Co-starring in the film is a young Antonio Banderas as Carlos, Ivan's son. All of the female characters throw themselves at him. Showing us, both men and women can be the sexual aggressors.

Still, despite everything "Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown" is an entertaining film. It is somewhat humorous and kept me watching until the end. I don't know how female viewers will react to this film though. Will the stereotypes bother them? Or will they take it in good spirits. I have no doubt that was Almodovar's intention. I'm sure he didn't mean to offend anyone. Again, the movie has a very tongue-in-cheek tone. You can't take this material seriously.

The movie marked a turn around for Almodovar. The movie gained international praise and was Almodovar's first widely praised film in America. It was Spain's official Oscar nominee. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe in the foreign language category. It won the National Board of Review of best foreign language film and won two awards at the Venice Film Festival; Best Actress (Maura) and Best Screenplay (Almodovar).

"Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown" is good Almodovar but not his best. For that I'd say watch "Talk To Her" (2002), "Bad Education" (2004), "Live Flesh" (1997) and "Volver".