Duplicity, estrangement, mistaken identity, passion and emotional upheaval: these are the hallmarks of a great comedy and “Casi Divas” lives up to it all. In addition, “Casi Divas” is complex and deep, making it as rich in its content as its color – of which it has an abundance.
Girls from throughout Mexico enter a national contest to win the star role in a popular soap opera. However, the current star, Eva (Patricia Llaca) doesn’t want to leave her post, and the competing hopefuls are a hodge-podge of untrained potential. This all spells muchos problemas for the producer, Alejandro (Julio Bracho), who is attracted to at least two of the competing women, and for the financial success of his show.
What gives strength to this comedy of mixed allegiances and mistaken identities is the background setting of both rich and poor Mexico. Four of the girls competing for the soap star role are followed in the film. Their families, friends, boyfriends and towns are vignetted to show a varied cross-section of Mexico, both rural and urban. The haves and the have-nots. The superficial and the deeply introspective. Those out to vainly bolster an ego and those out to survive.
Two of the girls, one shy and the other flamboyant, one a stereotype of a country innocent and the other the epitome of the slick city chick, become best friends. Their juxtaposition shows a growing independence in the Latina woman as well as the sadistic forces that work to keep her a marginal cipher in a frustrated society.
While Llaca plays the pitiful has-been star who fights with startling creative cleverness against her destined replacement, it is the even more magnetic and talented city chick, Yessinia (Daniela Schmidt), who absolutely steals the show. Her acting versatility careens from tough chick around town to picked-on-girl to sexy singer to tender best friend who understands everyone. Her comedic timing and exaggerated, almost clinical drive to win the contest combined with her exuberance for performing, steal the show.
I saw “Casi Divas” at a NYC screening where film reviewers were seated in the back and Latinos made up the rest of the audience. According to the other critics, this was a new situation. But what was interesting was how the viewing experience was affected. There was virtual audience participation as they interacted with the film, clapping, calling out, laughing and obviously identifying with certain segments of humor, helping the critics through any potential doubt that this was an easily identifiable story, despite a possibly biased audience.
However, there are also serious issues and grave moments of reflection in “Casi Divas.” The Missing Girls of Juarez issue is highlighted when one of the contestants, whom we have followed and become sympathetic, learns her best friend back home has been kidnapped. Where is her allegiance, her true responsibility, her true ambition – back at home helping her community look for her friend and fighting for social justice or competing for a frivolous, silly soap opera role?
There are loose girls and traditionally conservative girls, a contestant who is Indian and contestant who is blond. How they lead their lives, why they each want to win this contest, what they really want to accomplish in life and how they go about competing defines the complex competing drives within the universal woman who craves acceptance and being desired, but … at what cost?
“Casi Divas” starts out like a silly mock-up of the superficial, commercial, materialistic, and vain elements in our society, but leads the audience, through laughter, to some interesting self-reflections and an increased appreciation for Mexican culture.
Directed by: Issa López
Written by: Issa López, Ignacio Darnaude (original idea)
Starring: Patricia Llaca, Julio Bracho, Maya Zapata, Ana Layevska, Daniela Schmidt and Diana Garcia
Rated PG-13 for mature sexual content, language and thematic material
Runtime: 107 minutes
Web site: www.casidivas.com
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