Official Competition (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): A director and her two difficult stars

“Official Competition” is simply hilarious as having a naughty fun with its one-joke story premise. Although it comes to lose some of its comic momentum during its last act where the mood becomes a bit more serious, the movie continues to tickle us as before, and it is also supported well by the entertaining comic performances from the three main cast members at the center of the film.

Everything in the story begins from a wealthy old man who is just having his 80th birthday. Although he has accomplished a lot via his big pharmaceutical company for years, this old guy wants to leave behind a more enduring legacy before he dies, and he eventually decides to produce a great movie to be remembered, though he does not know anything about filmmaking from the beginning.

Anyway, the old man tries his best. First, he purchases the copyright of the novel of some famous author who won a Nobel Prize, and then he approaches to Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz), an acclaimed movie director who is quite serious about filmmaking in her own idiosyncratic way. Although he does not even know what or how the novel is about, he is willing to promise her the total artistic control over the production of their movie, and Lola accepts his request without much hesitation.

For the two contrasting lead characters of her movie, Lola cast two actors who cannot possibly be more different from each other: Iván Torres (Oscar Martínez) and Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas). While Iván is a very serious stage actor with a big artistic ego behind his seemingly humble appearance, Félix is your typical charismatic but arrogant movie star, and it goes without saying that they do not get along well with each other right from their first day with their director at a charity foundation building belonging to the old man.

At first, all they will have to do is reading their director’s screenplay for more preparation before the shooting, but, not so surprisingly, Lola turns out to be much more demanding than expected. As your average perfectionist, she frequently pays painstaking attention to every minute detail of her movie, and that often baffles her two stars. At one point, she demands Iván to deliver one very simple line as exactly as she wants, and that leads to a little moment of amusement for us as he patiently tries to follow her fastidious request.

And that is just the beginning of many outrageous things Lola are going to do for preparing her two stars for her movie. For example, she puts her two actors under a possibly risky situation, just because she wants to extract the right emotions from them. Needless to say, both of them cannot help but become nervous even while trying their best as much as possible, and the deft utilization of sound effects brings more hilarity to this loony moment.

Although it is more or less than a series of comic episodes among its three main characters, the screenplay by directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn and their co-writer Andrés Duprat keeps holding our attention with more outrageousness to be served to us. In case of a little audition for the old man’s young daughter who is eager to play a certain substantial character in Lola’s movie, you will definitely roll your eyes for good reasons, while also chuckling a lot. I will not go into details for not spoiling any of your fun, but I can tell you instead that the performers in this scene play absolutely straight to their characters’ increasingly absurd circumstance, and that surely generates more laughs for us.

While enduring one demanding session after another under their director, Iván and Félix come to dislike their director more and more, but they also hate each other’s guts more than before as they get themselves entangled into a sort of acting one-upmanship between them. Naturally, Lola comes to have lots of headache thanks to the increasing conflict between her two stars, and, not so surprisingly, there eventually comes a point where she reaches to a breaking point, though she is still stopped at all as driven by her artistic passion.

During its last act, the movie loses its focus a bit after a certain narrative point, but it maintains its twisted sense of humor as before despite having less surprise and hilarity in comparison. Although the story is unfolded mostly inside one limited background, the movie seldom feels stuffy or constrained, and Duprat and Cohn add some nice visual comic touches to the screen at times.

Their three main cast members, who incidentally participated in the production of the film as its executive producers, are willing to hurl themselves into lots of absurdities for more laughs for us. While Penélope Cruz dexterously maintains the balance between her two co-stars, Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martínez are often hilarious as their characters pull and push each other throughout the story, and they and Cruz keep the movie rolling as providing the constant amusement for us.

In conclusion, “Official Competition” is entertaining for its skillful serving of silly but effective comic moments. Its goal is modest, but it succeeds as much as intended, and I often found myself laughing or chuckling loud along with the audiences around me when I watched it during last evening. Considering that I am usually a very quiet audience, that tells a lot about its effectiveness, doesn’t it?

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