Álex de la Iglesia/ Spain/ 2015/ 100 mins
As part of Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival
Sometimes real life encroaches in a way that gives a piece of art a spin that may not have been intended. Certainly, even though Álex de la Iglesia’s My Big Night aims for breathless, bluntly satirical farce, scenes of police interacting with the public with excessive force can’t help but call to mind the very contemporary scenes in Catalonia. This injects a frisson of shivery relevance to a film that may not necessarily deserve it. It’s a thoroughly Spanish affair, with the touchstones of Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel in its conceit, and early Almodóvar in its irreverence, but without the staying power of either.
During the weeks-long recording of a New Year’s TV special (months in advance), at a large studio in Madrid, an extra is hit on the head by a camera crane. He’s replaced at short notice by José (Pepón Nieto), a nondescript everyman who’s initially bewildered by the constant demands to applaud acts they aren’t actually watching, and laugh at jokes that haven’t been made. He begins to fall for his attractive tablemate Paloma (Blanca Suárez), as backstage dramas begin to get out of hand and threaten to spill out onto the stage.
My Big Night is a film that’s pleased with itself in a way that may go over the heads of a wide audience. Crooning relic Raphael (part Cliff Richard, part Liberace) gamely sends himself up as Alphonse, an eternal fixture of Spanish culture whose alpha status is threatened by Adanne (Mario Casas), a buff, dunderheaded teen idol. It’s amusingly meta in a very culturally specific way. Also at loggerheads are the two presenters of the show, adding a double layer of comic confrontation. Throw in an errant vial of semen, an assassination plot, and Jose’s intensely catholic mother and it’s a lightweight, frothy and pleasantly madcap affair; if familiar in its tone and execution.
If you’re at all acquainted with the mechanics of farce you’ll know what to expect from My Big Night, although de la Iglesia brings a lot of technical skill to bear here. The parody of big, cheesy variety shows works precisely because there’s a lot of effort gone into their recreation; the big song and dance numbers are impressively choreographed even as they’re lampooned. Iglesia also effectively conveys the increasing sense of cabin fever amidst the virtual prisoners and paces the descent into mania nicely. What lets him down is a proliferation of unmemorable characters that steal time and attention from the more engaging creations.
My Big Night is an unsubtle but entertaining slice of silliness that won’t linger as long in the memory as the films that act as its touchstones, but is unexpectedly relevant in its depiction of state on public violence. This edge will blunt as today’s headlines become tomorrow’s chip wrappers, but it certainly adds an extra dimension of engagement.