To Hell With The Ugly (Que se mueran los feos)
Spain (2010) Dir. Nacho G. Velilla
Elisio (Javier Camara) is an unattractive, limping, balding, socially-awkward 41 year-old bachelor living with his mother and uncle Auxilio (Juan Diego) at their farm/butchers shop. When his mother dies on the day he is supposed to leave his small village for the city, Wliiso is lumbered running the fame alone due to Auxilio’s idleness but help comes in the form of Nati (Carmen Machi), a forty something, down on her luck fortune teller recently splitting with her husband. After a frosty start, the pair click after they win second prize in a cow beauty contest (!), celebrating by downing a few sherbets then sleeping together. They realise that they are falling in love but there is a slight caveat – Nati is Elisio’s sister-in-law!
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. When one talks Spanish comedies only one name comes to mind and that of course is the incomparable Pedro Almodóvar. Comparisons will always be made to his films be it intentionally, necessary or out of laziness and this second film outing for TV director Nacho G. Velilla warrants this purely because the energy, the set up are reminiscent of Almodóvar while half the cast are Almodóvar alumni. However as much as To Hell With The Ugly shares the same energy as the master’s works it lacks the flair, wit, panache and rebellious streak, leaving the comparisons on a superficial level only.
We meet out hapless protagonist as he is about to embark on a blind date whom he was meeting at a café before going on to a wedding. One look at Elisio in his mismatched clothes, thick rimmed glasses, awkward gait and Bobby Charlton comb over and his prospective partner Sofia (Carmen Ruiz) can’t escape quick enough. This leads to amass inquisition (yes a Spanish one) at the wedding from friends and family when his fondly spoken of online friend fails to materialise, followed by endless teasing. Nati is slightly better off in that she is working fortune teller who is given a lucky pendant by a client who doesn’t believe her predictions but with her husband AWOL and having a mastectomy she’s also low on the esteem front.
They reluctantly work together while Elisio’s brother Juan (Pere Arquillué) remains estranged, with twenty year old frostiness looking unlikely, Nati throws herself into making the farm work and her eventual success at the cow contest warms her to Elisio, who thinks he can leave the farm in her care and go to the city after all. Unfortunately everyone at the hotel during the contest heard Nati during their love making, making fun of the poor sap who is making her scream – unaware it is ugly old Elisio. Then Juan turns up out of the blue, his arrival setting off a chain of misunderstandings, family feuds and disharmony around the small community.
It’s not just our mismatched couple who are having relationship problems – the rest of the villagers who are more than quick to dish out advice to the hapless pair find themselves in just as much romantic trouble. If it isn’t trendy priest Abel (Tristán Ulloa) then it’s married lothario Román (Hugo Silva), wannabe writer and father of four Javier (Lluís Villanueva) or lesbian hairdresser Mónica (Ingrid Rubio) who wants to have a baby. Even thought some are married it’s a case of the blind leading the blind on the love stakes, although the only thing they are united on is that Elisio will forever be a loser in love, reminding him on a daily basis how ugly he is.
This is the conceit of the film – that neither Elisio nor Nati are essentially ugly (if Nati married she can’t be, right?) just awkward and not within societies conventions of beauty; then again neither are the others really but for the sake of the story, Elisio is at the bottom of their food chain. It also doesn’t help that he hasn’t a clue, as trying to chat up a former childhood crush at her husband’s funeral demonstrates. The ultimate moral of the story is about feeling comfortable in your own skin and that comfort will radiate confidence like a pheromone and win over the opposite sex. Getting there can be a trial as we learn, with life getting in the way, such as trying to get their music band to play well together to arguing over their affairs while trying to birth a calf, while everyone else’s relationships are starting to head south!
The energy and the drive of the film comes courtesy of Javier Camara, last seen in Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited. As Elisio some of his quirks have the same camp qualities air steward Joserra possesses, and his quick fire comic timing is just as sharp here, with wider environment than an airborne aeroplane to take his character into physical farcical territory. Carmen Machi is a suitably esoteric sparring partner as Nati which is also the role the remainder of the cast fulfil, making it essentially Elisio vs the world for the most part. The only weak link is the predictable story that goes almost exactly as you might imagine if to; however if this were a US film it would star Adam Sandler and it would be more of a “laugh at the weirdos” than look beneath the skin at the real person, so this at least has that going for it.
There is actually a lot of fun to be found in To Hell With The Ugly and while labelling it “Almodóvar in the countryside” might be a stretch it is a close enough to give you an idea of what to expect. However just don’t go into this expecting to see something at the same level as the great man and you’ll enjoy this sassy, fast paced slice of Spanish silliness a lot more.