Cashing in on the double whammy of the “Ugly Betty” phenomenon and Mexican telenovela star Barbara Mori’s popularity, tyro Chilean helmer Carlos Dabed’s “Pretending” begins as a high-concept feminist comedy but morphs unevenly into a sensitized romance between unlikely opposites. Nabbing nearly $1 million in its early October Mexican opening on 250 screens (and breaking the local B.O. record for a non-Mexican Latin American release), pic about a gorgeous architect who hides her beauty looks to clean up in a November rollout across Latin America, while it appears just a matter of time until pic secures a Stateside distrib.
Ladder-climbing Santiago architect Amanda (Mori) has the moxie of a Roz Russell and the allure of a Veronica Lake, but she also has a hubby who’s cheating and a cowardly boss, who doesn’t back her when she needs his support.
Amanda leaves Santiago for the small coastal burg of Valparaiso. Convinced men won’t take her seriously unless she glams down, Amanda uses every makeup trick in the book (including ludicrous buck teeth) to ensure she’s an instant turnoff, and, in Shakespearean style, even adopts the altar-ego of “Helena.”
Sure enough, she scores a post with a small firm run by Max (Jaime Azocar) on smarts alone. However, one of the firm’s partners is ladies’ man Marcelo (Argentine thesp Marcelo Mazzarello).
Dabed and Yank co-writer Franklin McDonald’s script explores what happens when Marcelo — whose libido is dulled by “Helena” — learns what it means to have a female friend he can confide in.
However, problems arise when pic attempts to have it all ways: Amanda’s motives border on the insidious when she plots to put lothario Marcelo in his place. Posing as, well, an ultra sexy Barbara Mori, Amanda manipulates Marcelo to the point where he’s impotent in bed.
Following that, no amount of cleverly staged dialogue or last-moment twists can convince auds that these two will live happily ever after.
The upending of the Latin lover stereotype is right down Mazzarello’s alley comically, but pic is a Mori star vehicle from start to finish, and fans may be surprised how well her “Ugly Betty” spin actually works on screen.
Film’s mediocre vid-to-35mm transfer is unfortunate for a movie that demands a slick look (lensed by Masanobu Takayanagi). Pic is part of a trend in Latin American filmmaking to use international production talent, including here editor Danielle Fillios (French) and composer Justin Stanley (Aussie). Valparaiso, not known as a romantic getaway, certainly looks like it here.