A breezy romantic farce bouncing lightly off a singular historical moment, Manuel Gomez Pereira's "Queens" takes place in the days leading up to Spain's first legal gay wedding. (Spain was the fourth country to legalize gay marriage, a little over a year ago.) The title is a play on words; the story centers around three young gay couples who plan to marry in a televised ceremony for 20. But the "queens" of the title are four of their formidable mothers.
In the days before the wedding, the couples find themselves beset by every imaginable complication -- bickering divorced parents, infidelity, uncomfortable class issues, a burglary, a hotel strike and a lost dog. And at times, especially where the dog is involved, the movie descends to the level of a sitcom. But it's Gomez Pereira's treatment of the mothers -- ages 50 to 60 -- that makes the movie worth seeing, especially as a point of comparison to how Hollywood portrays their peers. Alternately divorced, unfaithful, self-centered, insensitive -- some of them all of the above -- the mothers are to a woman strong-willed, sexy and eminently admirable.
Carmen Maura plays Magda, an icy hotel magnate. She and her husband, with whom she enjoys a strictly business relationship, have recently launched a chain of hotels catering to a gay clientele. Magda's uptight, affection-starved son Miguel (Unax Ugalde) is engaged to marry an Argentine massage therapist named Oscar (Daniel Hendler), and is horrified when Oscar's warm but overbearing mother Ofelia (Betiana Blum) arrives in Madrid intending to stay for three months with her rambunctious dog in tow. Miguel feels like his world is falling apart, but Magda is too involved in a heated labor dispute with her handsome head chef to notice.
When the judge who was scheduled to perform the ceremony suffers a heart attack, the task falls to Elena (Mercedes Sampietro), who is unhappy about her son Hugo's (Gustavo Salmeron) impending wedding to Narciso (Paco Leon), a delegate to the European Parliament in Brussels for whom the legalization represents a huge political victory. Unfortunately for Narciso, his mother, Nuria (Veronica Forque), is a sex addict whose problem threatens to ruin his big moment.
Slightly removed from the drama is Reyes (Marisa Paredes), a famous actress whose son Rafa (Raul Jimenez) is marrying Jonas (Hugo Silva). Jonas is the son of Jacinto (Lluis Homar), her longtime gardener, who has never set foot inside her house until he's invited to dinner the night before the wedding. Reyes orders sushi and sets the table with chopsticks, passive-aggressively hoping to show up Jacinto's lack of sophistication. Jacinto calmly and then not quite so calmly reminds her that he is a 49-year-old widower who eats out on occasion, and then proceeds to recite the list of incrementally exotic ethnic restaurants he frequents. After dinner, he lights a joint. "You don't mind, do you?" he asks Reyes, hoping she might. "Please," she says, "I've worked with Almodovar!" The reference is not unique -- later, when Reyes attends a paella party at Jacinto's house, one of his friends mistakes her for the famous actress "Carmen Maura." In much the same way that weddings bridge generational gaps, "Queens" alludes to the Almodovar-centered avant-garde late '70s and '80s that paved the way for a completely mainstream and commercial treatment of once taboo subjects.
The movie has no higher ambition than to please a crowd; the fact that it easily does is proof of the world's heartening capacity for change.
MPAA rating: R for sexual content, brief nudity and language
Distributed by Regent Releasing. Director Manuel Gomez Pereira. Screenplay by Yolanda Garcia Serrano, Joaquin Oristrell and Manuel Gomez Pereira. Producer Jose Luis Escolar. Director of photography Juan Amoros. Editor Jose Salcedo. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles.
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