'Casi Divas': In Mexico, The Making Of A Movie Star

Daniela Schmidt (Yesenia), Maya Zapata (Francisca) in 'Casi Divas' i i

hide captionFriends And Rivals: Mexico City hairdresser Yesenia (Daniela Schmidt, left) and the Oaxaca-born Francisca (Maya Zapata) come from very different backgrounds to compete for celebrity in Casi Divas.

Daniel Daza/Columbia Pictures
Daniela Schmidt (Yesenia), Maya Zapata (Francisca) in 'Casi Divas'

Friends And Rivals: Mexico City hairdresser Yesenia (Daniela Schmidt, left) and the Oaxaca-born Francisca (Maya Zapata) come from very different backgrounds to compete for celebrity in Casi Divas.

Daniel Daza/Columbia Pictures

Casi Divas

  • Director: Issa Lopez
  • Genre: art, foreign, comedy
  • Running Time: 107 minutes
  • Spanish, with English subtitles

Rated PG-13: Brief disturbing images, nudity and sexuality

With: Patricia Llaca, Julio Bracho, Maya Zapata, Ana Layevska and Diana Garcia

The "casi" in Casi Divas translates to "almost," and it's an appropriate word for the film as a whole. A hit in Mexico when it was released there in 2008, the picture sets out to satirize both reality TV talent shows and Latin American soap operas, to charm audiences with a little light romantic farce and to offer a sobering critique of divisions and prejudices in Mexican culture. But as each of those things, it only almost succeeds.

The satirical elements come closest to hitting their mark, both targets — American Idol-style contests and melodramatic telenovelas — being ripe for mockery. When a successful, long-running soap is optioned for the big screen, the show's womanizing producer, Alejandro (Julio Bracho), decides that Eva (Patricia Llaca) is getting a little too old to play the series' titular starring role, Maria Enamorada. Over her fierce protestations, tantrums and threats (Eva's the real diva here), Alejandro initiates a nationwide casting call to fill the role for the movie, complete with televised auditions, audience voting and a snarky judging panel.

Of the thousands of young women who flock to Mexico City hoping to become stars, the film focuses on four, each representing a different segment of Mexican society: They're rich and poor, urban and rural, indigenous and non-. They're introduced via documentary-style biographical segments, but whether those vignettes are meant to exist within the narrative of Casi Divas or as part of the Maria Enamorada TV competition isn't clear — and without a clear context, they play like jarring stylistic detours. And such dizzying turns are typical, alas, in a film that never decides what or even whom it wants to be about.

Patricia Llaca (Eva) and Julio Bracho (Alejandro) in 'Casi Divas' i i

hide captionWiles Woman: Eva (Patricia Llaca) is the TV star whose role a producer (Julio Bracho) wants to recast when the project heads for the big screen — and there's no tactic she won't try to stop him.

Daniel Daza/Columbia Pictures
Patricia Llaca (Eva) and Julio Bracho (Alejandro) in 'Casi Divas'

Wiles Woman: Eva (Patricia Llaca) is the TV star whose role a producer (Julio Bracho) wants to recast when the project heads for the big screen — and there's no tactic she won't try to stop him.

Daniel Daza/Columbia Pictures

The film does do well enough by its individual elements. Scenes of hilariously bad acting from the early rounds of casting are genuinely, if painfully, funny; a touching and poignant relationship develops between the two women who emerge as the front-runners; issues of identity, whether national, gender or racial, are touched on directly and sensitively. And the outrage Casi Divas musters over the government's inability to do anything about the murdered and missing women in the city of Juarez comes across as an inspiring political wake-up call.

But each one of those elements, unfortunately, ends up feeling like a puzzle piece without a puzzle to fit into. Casi Divas contains enough subplots to power a Robert Altman movie, but too often there's no sense that they're bound up in a single unifying story. And as the competition draws to a close — and the movie draws toward a nakedly telegraphed twist and a pat Hollywood ending — it becomes apparent that what might have been a solidly entertaining film has been undermined by admirable ambitions.

As it is, the laughs in Casi Divas tend to cheapen the sobering drama, while the latter weighs down the former. What's left is a film that's almost a sharp comedy, almost an affecting drama — but not entirely effective as either.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: