After the would-be comedy The Bubble burst on Netflix this spring, we now have another comedy that skewers the film industry, but goes about it in a much smarter and more sophisticated way.
Where Judd Apatow’s The Bubble went after low-hanging fruit, like big-budget sequels and green-screen fiascoes, the targets of Official Competition are prestige dramas and the artistic egos that drive them in front of and behind the camera.
It turns out there’s still plenty of fodder outside the Hollywood soft targets and the writing/directing duo of Gastón Duprat & Mariano Cohn find ways to poke at the pretensions of artists, while respecting what they bring to the craft. Most importantly, it’s a film with jokes that consistently land, some of which are the laugh-out-loud variety and others which aim for sly snickers instead.
The film opens on the 80th birthday of millionaire Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez), who pensively looks out of his skyscraper window and relates to his assistants that he longs to add to his legacy. He already has charity foundations that build bridges, but he decides he wants to produce a feature film that bears all the marks of greatness. In this spirit of perceived excellence, he meets with Palme d’Or-winning director Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) with intentions of adapting a best-selling novel that he hasn’t read about two feuding brothers. After being hired, Cuevas gets to work on the script and helps cast revered stage thespian Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) and certified movie star Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) in the two lead roles. The trio come together for rehearsals, revealing disparities in their personalities and artistic processes.
Since the movie is primarily centered around this threesome, the interplay between the three actors is a large source of the humor and each performance radiates wildly with wit. Sporting a coiffure of red curls that seem to shoot in every direction, Cruz conjures the eccentricities of various arthouse directors, while begrudgingly accepting the role of surrogate mother to her two competing actors. Martínez channels the likes of Laurence Olivier and Ben Kingsley in his portrayal of a classically-trained stiff who takes the lead in a feature film because teaching theater classes doesn’t inspire him like it used to. Banderas has lots of options for inspiration (including, perhaps, from his own real-life career) in crafting a slick heartthrob character trying his hand at “serious films” for the first time.
Beyond evoking the classic comedy conceit of clashing opposites, Official Competition scores tons of laughs from the arbitrary nature of artistic collaboration and, specifically, the frustrations of filmmaking. During their very first script reading, Cuevas requests that Torres repeat the simple line “good evening” about a dozen times, pontificating about how much meaning can be conveyed in just those two words, while Rivero looks on nervously. Prop designers and casting agents come to Cuevas when decisions need to be made, prompting her to test out far too many single-scene handbags or left-swipe the faces of background actors on a tablet for seemingly arbitrary reasons. As many real-life actors have done recently, Rivero takes to TikTok for gaudy social awareness spots that make Cuevas laugh with pity. There are dozens of other gags that I could outline, but they’re best left for audiences to enjoy together.
For a film that lampoons the behind-the-scenes minutiae that can go into these projects, Official Competition’s production design and set decoration is surprisingly first-rate. I’m not sure that directors and actors often rehearse in spaces as lavish and pristine as the ones seen in this movie, but cinematographer Arnau Valls Colomer certainly has a ball capturing their reserved beauty. The background for title card and opening credits is later revealed to be the green marble plaque for one of Rivero’s numerous acting awards, connecting the authentic beauty still linked to these artificial popularity contests.
With the proliferation of entertainment news and constant access to celebrities, it’s easy to get cynical about the state of moviemaking and Official Competition certainly has some fun at its expense. But by its end, we’re reminded how the very best movies still make the process worthwhile.
New movies coming this weekend
Bodies, Bodies Bodies, a comedy slasher starring Amandla Stenberg, Pete Davidson, and Maria Bakalova, follows a group of rich 20-somethings whose party at a remote family mansion turns deadly when they begin a Mafia-style party game.
Fall, a psychological thriller starring Grace Fulton and Virginia Gardner, finds two best friends struggling to survive while trapped at the top of a 2,000-foot radio tower.
Summering, a coming-of-age drama starring Lia Barnett and Madalen Mills, tells the story of four girls who embark on a mysterious adventure during their last days of summer and childhood.