Valeria Bertuccelli, an actor who aces deadpan comedy with her eyes closed, runs the show in “A Boyfriend for My Wife.” The rest of director Juan Taratuto’s matrimonial comedy, dealing with a husband who contrives a way to split from his intolerably verbose, cynical wife, is comparatively pale business that would fit neatly on a TV screen. Taratuto’s third relationship comedy with writer Pablo Solarz (“It’s Not You, It’s Me” and “Who Says It’s Easy?”) is Argentina’s top 2008 B.O. draw with 1 million-plus admissions, and looks to keep up those numbers in upcoming Latin American rollout via Disney.
The film essentially marks the merging of two different strains in Argentine film comedy, which tends to mine a milder, less broad style than what dominates popular Latin American comic tradition. On one hand, there are Tarututo and Solarz’s straight-ahead, tube-inspired films about ill-suited couples; on the other are Martin Rejtman’s brilliant deadpan ensemble pics (“The Magic Gloves,” “Silvia Prieto”), which include Bertuccelli. While she brings a whole new level of intelligence to this basic, formulaic material, she can hardly carry the entire project on her shoulders.
Bertuccelli’s profoundly gloomy Tana has been married for a while to Tenso (Adrian Suar), the owner of a Buenos Aires lighting store and an overall genial guy who’s clearly an intellectual midget next to Tana. Their collapsing marriage is framed by a visit with an offscreen counselor, meant in part to lightly poke fun at the national obsession with psychotherapy. But it also begs the unanswered question: How on earth did these two ever marry in the first place?
Whatever their past, Tana and Tenso’s present is a glum chain of routine mornings over breakfast and evenings over dinner, with Tana playing jobless homebody and complaining about everything. Her main peeve appears to be what she deems Tenso’s witless friends, who drive her up the wall.
Bertuccelli’s fabulous, rapid-fire delivery of a laundry list of complaints, combined with her near-total absence of facial expression, is a dark cousin to her similarly deadpan characters in Rejtman’s films, and Rejtman’s masterful command of a distinctive brand of contemporary comedy appears to be one of “Boyfriend’s” influences.
Tenso finally has it up to here with Tana’s negativity but lacks the nerve to tell her he wants a separation. Via his gym buddies, he makes a deal with a local, legendary and elderly lothario known as “the Crow” (Gabriel Goity) to woo Tana and justify a divorce.
The deal includes getting Tana out of the house and into a job as a sidekick at a local radio station, where she’s able to use her verbal cynicism on a daily drive-time bit titled “Mornings Aren’t for Me.” More of these bits and less of Tenso running around and trying to work things out with the Crow would have been welcome.
The surprises Tana has in store for Tenso come straight out of sitcom writing, reducing Tana to a scriptwriter’s puppet on a string, with Tenso little more than a lame guy merely reacting to events.
Bertuccelli’s fellow thesps, including Suar, are faint shadows in her presence, though perhaps not as faint as the flat staging and Pablo Schverdfinger’s annoyingly overlit lensing.