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  • Nate Adams

'Official Competition' review: Cruz, Banderas & Martinez deliver laughs in hilarious Spanish comedy

Courtesy of IFC Films


“Official Competition,” a Spanish comedy with plenty of tongue-and-cheekiness that might not say anything new or groundbreaking about art imitating life or unorthodox filmmakers, at least it features three prominent actors at the top of their games. Headlined by superstars Penelope Cruz, Antonio Banderas and Oscar Martínez, “Official Competition,” a story about a director and two actors preparing to make the movie of their careers, is driven by bruised egos, actor mythos, and sharp, deadpan humor. The laughs aren’t necessarily laugh-out-loud, but the sarcasm and wit infused into a script by Andrés Duprat and co-directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat elevates a premise which might seem too on-the-nose for its own good.

Nevertheless, the star power should garner eyeballs and raise its awareness even if the baked-in metaphors on the Hollywood industry comes across dry and unsavory. Cruz plays Lola Cuevas, a hot-shot director known around town for her methods and filmmaking protocols. She’s been hired by a wealthy, older benefactor (José Luis Gómez) desperate to leave behind some legacy worth touting. Instead of building bridges (like he quibbles over at one point), he purchases the rights to a prestigious, best-selling novel and enlists Cuevas to make it. He’s never read the book and even asks Lola to explain the premise.

She insists the adaptation, a narrative about two brothers caught in a sticky situation, one kills his parents during a drunk driving accident resulting in his twin turning him over to the police, must star Félix Rivero (Banderas) and Iván Torres (Martínez), two prominent award winning performers who have never worked together. The driving force behind “Official Competition” involves the mandatory rehearsal process Lola insists upon, which yields fascinating explorations of character development that borders on outlandish. From warm-ups including the actors hurling insults to practicing a pivotal scene while a sky-scraper sized boulder hangs above them, there’s no boundaries (or scenarios) Lola isn’t willing to cross.

Banderas, Martínez, and Cruz are perfectly cast and the script gives them each something to bite into. Félix is the cocky one who couldn’t be bothered to make up a backstory; Iván relishes the character work process and comes Day 1 ready to dive in; meanwhile Lola seems intent on pushing her actors to the limit, which often results in a few screwball moments. They all have their triggers and methods, resulting in a third act shocker that comes out of nowhere. Anyone who studies performance or behind the scenes tidbits might not walk away completely satisfied, but the thrill of watching these three icons go for the jugular still makes it a worthwhile competition.

Grade: B+

OFFICIAL COMPETITION is now playing in select theaters and expands into Michigan theaters Friday, July 1st.


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