Heavy Symbolism Steamrollers Comedy in "Casi Divas"

casi-divas.jpg.jpg
Yesenia (Daniela Schmidt, left) and Francisca (Maya Zapata) get down.
Suppose someone made a comedy based on American Idol (I know, been there, done that with American Dreamz; just work with me, people). Now let's say the parts spoofing Idol were clever, at times hilarious. But then the filmmaker moved beyond the evils of fame to take on even heavier social ills. Suddenly your bouncy little comedy about the road to fame has been steamrollered.

That's precisely the problem with Casi Divas, which opens today at Regency South Coast Village in Santa Ana, Century Stadium and AMC 30 at the Block in Orange and Cinemark at the Pike in Long Beach.

 

Made in Mexico by the supremely talented Issa López (who also wrote and directed Efectos secundarios and wrote Niñas Mal and Ladies' Night), Casi Divas brims with comedic moments that are as funny and well-paced as anything coming out of Hollywood these days. Fortunately, unlike what would happen north of the border, López keeps the focus on young women rather than young men who won't grow up. Or Sandra Bullock.

Unfortunately, López beats a dead mule with scenes that are over-saturated with symbolism. There's nothing wrong with social commentary in a comedy, but after making her points she returns to hit you over the head with them. It's like a comedy that morphs into an afterschool special about steroids--on steroids.

Maria Enamorada, a long-running telenovela, is going to be made into a movie, but the star is getting long in the tooth, so producer Alejandro Mateos (Julio Bracho) launches a nationwide talent search for her replacement, sparking a national frenzy. The movie focuses on four of the hundreds of young women who will come to Mexico City in hopes of landing the part that will change their lives.

Francisca (Maya Zapata) hails from a mountain village in Oaxaca. As a Zapotecan Indian, she faces discrimination. Yesenia (Daniela Schmidt) is an extraverted superstar in the making from Mexico City. She has a secret that could bounce her from the contest. Ximena (Ana Layevska) is a poor little rich twig from Guadalajara. Having lost 50 pounds, she has body image issues. Catalina (Diana Garcia) is a factory worker from Ciudad Juarez. As a woman there, she could be whisked away and killed.

Another woman works into the mix in Casi Divas (almost divas): Eva Gallardo (Patricia Llaca), the abusive diva who made Maria Enamorada a sensation and has no intention on relinquishing her starring role even though she has aged well beyond her character. She takes such delicious delight in undermining her former lover Alejandro that you begin to miss Llaca whenever she isn't on screen.

Agism, sexism, racism, homophobia, class warfare and the wanton murder of women all work their way into this, um, comedy, and for the most part, López manages to pull it off. The reality show scenes have the same confident touch as the game show scenes in Slumdog Millionaire. But by the end credits López has loaded down Casi Divas so much that you'll forget the laughs and think back to a far different film: Schindler's List.

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