An absorbing and at times moving look at life for someone with Down syndrome.

An absorbing and at times moving look at life for someone with Down syndrome, “Me, Too” focuses on a man who has DS and seeks the love of a woman who doesn’t. The two fine central perfs hold interest throughout, keeping at bay side issues that continually threaten to swamp the drama. The helmers avoid turning the pic into a feel-good schmaltzfest, shrewdly keeping things real in a sensitive crowdpleaser of impeccable intentions. Pic can expect good buzz and B.O. at home, with offshore interest likely to follow.

To be sure, Daniel (Pablo Pineda, like his character, Europe’s first Down’s sufferer to get a university degree), is certainly more privileged than most DS individuals. He lives with his caring if hassled mother, Angeles (Isabel Garcia Lorca), and determinedly upbeat father, Bernabe (Pedro Alvarez Ossorio), and his life is approaching the “normalcy” to which he aspires when he gets his first job in an office. Still there’s something missing: a romantic relationship.

Enter scattered, aimless, unlucky-in-love Laura (Lola Duenas, typically feisty), who staggers into the office in high heels. For Daniel, it’s love at first sight. Much of the rest of the pic sympathetically charts his frustrated attempts to get Laura to see him as a man.

Pineda does good work in a first acting role that seems to have been modeled on aspects of his own experiences. He delivers a finely judged, no-nonsense performance, and his self-deprecating humor prevents us from feeling mere sympathy for him.

Though in later scenes, Daniel’s awkwardness in pursuing Laura can be tough to watch, there’s real chemistry between the two, for which the alert Duenas is also largely responsible. Details of Laura’s own family problems, which dubiously attempt to establish her as an outsider like Daniel, seem drawn from a gritty-domestic-drama template and can hardly compete with the main story.

Scenes shot at a DS dance class develop a powerful secondary against-the-odds romantic storyline between a DS couple (Daniel Parejo and Lourdes Naharro) — that threatens to take over the film. The storyline also includes the pic’s strongest scene: seemingly improvised, beautifully authentic and quietly celebratory.

Considering that the pic’s theme is a minefield, things are generally handled with the necessary delicacy, though one overwrought and superfluous scene, in which Daniel yells that he is a man, brings things uncomfortably close to melodramatic “Elephant Man” territory. Mostly, though, the film is quietly perceptive in its attack on the mistaken ways in which people judge on appearance; any script that can provoke knowing smiles from viewers when a DS man is called “subnormal” is surely doing its job.

Helmers Alvaro Pastor and Antonio Naharro and d.p. Alfonso Postigo use a handheld docu style and natural lighting to provide an air of grainy realism — though one suspects that for many people with Down’s, and their families, life can be a good deal grimmer than the pic even begins to suggest. The use of pleasant but bland pop music adds little.

Me, Too

Spain

Production

A Golem release of an Alicia Produce, Promico Imagen production with the participation of TVE, Canal Plus. (International sales: the Match Factory, Cologne.) Produced by Julio Medem, Koldo Zuazua, Manuel Gomez Cardena. Directed, written by Alvaro Pastor, Antonio Naharro.

Crew

Camera (color), Alfonso Postigo; editor, Nino Martinez Sosa; music, Guille Milkyway; art director, Ines Aparicio; sound (Dolby Digital), Eva Valino, Pelayo Gutierrez, Nacho Royo. Reviewed at Cines Golem, Madrid, Aug. 31, 2009. (In San Sebastian Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Pablo Pineda, Lola Duenas, Isabel Garcia Lorca, Antonio Naharro, Pedro Alvarez Ossorio, Lourdes Naharro, Daniel Parejo, Catalina Llado.
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