A smartly dressed multipart comedy-romance about the insecurities of a generation that apparently prefers worrying about love to making it, the unabashedly throwaway “8 Dates” is more teen night out than candlelit dinner for two. An above-average if over-derivative Spanish laffer with a vast cast mostly consisting of all-the-rage twentysomething Spanish tube thesps, “Dates” has fun written all over it and contains more than its share of astute observational comedy, but too often mistakes laffs for the merely absurd. Pic is set for a happy rendezvous with home auds, but its offshore diary will be harder to fill.
Dramatically, this is a mixed bag. Its first section is pretty much laugh-free and has an emotional undertow that would have benefited the rest of pic, with shy newspaper-kiosk owner Antonio (Fernando Tejero) plucking up his romantic courage regarding departing schoolteacher Sofia (Belen Lopez). The second and third sections rep a drop in quality — the latter combines the old offscreen voice technique for characters’ thoughts — with flashbacks of protag Pablo’s (Javier Rey) embarrassing romantic past — to embarrassing effect.
The sections featuring more than two characters work best, and things pick up with “Family,” in which Edu (Jesus Caba) finds himself at the house of his g.f. and her deranged family. Edu’s dinner table speech and their reactions to it are authentically laughaloud. A section featuring a middle-aged couple, Rosa (Adriana Ozores) and Fernando (Miguel Angel Sola) in a sex swap club plays out predictably, but things revive with the next part, as jealous boyfriend Sergi (Arturo Valls) jealously watches g.f Ana (Maria Ballesteros) getting friendly with her good-looking ex as he pretentiously spouts Neruda. Much of pic’s subtlety is squeezed into these stylishly played and lensed 15 minutes.
To exploit the criss-cross format to the dramatic max, it’s not enough to have characters briefly turn up in other stories before bringing them all together at the end, and that’s pretty much how the pic plays it — which adds up to a film that feels more like a series of shorts.
The final scene is unearned sentimentality par excellence.
Standout perfs come from Pereira, Jordi Vilches as Juan — a sparky thesp with a true comedy look — and Valls. But all the way through, we’re looking for someone to care about as much as we cared about Antonio back in that muted first scene. The rhythm is generally fast and furious, tailored to the tastes of the tube generation, with often busy hand-held lensing. Music, superbly well-chosen ear candy, is mostly pretty-sounding indie ballad fare. Production values are tops.