Three cousins head back to the pueblo in search of better times in the entertaining but uneven comedy “Cousinhood.” Helmer Daniel Sanchez Arevalo’s previous two pics had some bite that’s mostly missing from this softer, more commercial project, which isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. Still, its unusual blend of slick and fresh, emotional undertow, and carefully manicured visuals nonetheless make for an enjoyable, sometimes surprisingly moving ride that improves as it rolls along. Home B.O has been good, with “Cousinhood” likely to find family at fests and restricted offshore territories.
Diego (Quim Gutierrez) is left standing at the altar by Yolanda (Nuria Gago). His cousins, laddish Julian (Raul Arevalo) and emotionally damaged, eyepatch-wearing Miguel (Adrian Lastra), suggest they travel to Spain’s northern coast so Diego can revive things with his ex, Martina (Inma Cuesta).
On arrival, Diego finds Martina is now the single mother of Dani (Marcos Ruiz). Within minutes, the confused but sincere Diego is telling Martina that he “pre-loves” her, a verbal strategy designed not to scare her away. Martina’s smiling, tolerant response is the start of a relationship that quietly strengthens over the running time, but the arrival of Yolanda in the pueblo complicates things.
Miguel befriends Dani, hoping to prevent the kid, in whom he sees a younger version of himself, from messing up his life, a plotline that works up some real poignancy. Elsewhere, Julian runs into video-club owner and alcoholic Bachi (Antonio de la Torre, solid), who is estranged from his tough-talking prostitute daughter, Clara (Clara Lago, fine within the confines of the big-hearted hooker role). Julian makes a play for Clara, but also sets about reuniting father and daughter.
Although it neatly sets up its emotional triangles in time-honored style, the script by writer-helmer Sanchez Arevalo is never as simple as it seems. When the core male trio’s real insecurities break through to the surface, the tenor moves up another level, achieving an edginess that’s at odds with the sometimes adolescent humor on display elsewhere.
As often happens, the guys are the tontos while the girls are smarter but more thinly drawn. Diego is confused about just about everything, and Cuesta is good at making Martina’s unlikely interest in him credible. Other acting standout is Arevalo as Julian, though his flirtations with Clara rep the pic’s least engrossing scenes.
Dialogue regularly overstays its welcome, though Sanchez Arevalo has a gift for off-the-wall exchanges that provide most of the pic’s smiles; Julian’s proposal to Clara that they become “lovers for 13 minutes” is typical. Helmer has a weakness for playing up the quirky, which certainly makes “Cousinhood” distinctive, even it doesn’t always come off (Bachi’s repeated suicidal leaps into the sea are one example of such excess).
Shot on Spain’s northern coast, lenser Juan Carlos Gomez makes the locations used look like the dreamy European villages of summer, with narrow, winding streets, attractive plazas and beaches all bathed in clean sunlight. Indie-folk score makes use of sparkling guitar work and refreshingly light melodies. The Spanish title neatly translates as both “cousins” and “suckers.”