An imaginative, exuberantly kitschy musical about a hick Uruguayan girl’s dreams of stardom, “Miss Tacuarembo” is not only eye-catching and fun, but clever, too. Uruguayan media artist Martin Sastre’s debut feature boasts a sexy, dancing Christ, an over-the-top reality show and a soap-opera storyline, but by rooting these Almodovarian cliches in the fantasies of a young femme, pic stays simpatico throughout despite its excesses. “Miss Tacuarembo” took top honors in the Malaga fest’s Zonazine sidebar, and looks likely to shimmy down further fest catwalks.
The memorable 1980s-set opening scene has young Natalia (Sofia Silvera, chosen from 900 candidates) and her best friend, Carlos (Mateo Capo), dancing to a version of “What a Feeling” before cycling away, followed by their pet lamb. Beauty contest-obsessed Natalia is determined to be Miss Tacuarembo one day, but her unruly behavior is criticized by the ultra-Catholic Candida (Uruguayan soap star Natalia Oreira, hammy and unconvincingly made up), who won’t let Natalia’s mother, Monica (Monica Villa), forget that Monica is a divorced woman. When Candida tells Monica she’s seen Carlos dancing in the street like a homosexual, Monica’s response (“What’s a homosexual?”) reps one of the film’s several knowing bits of dialogue.
Later in life, having run away from home, the 30-year-old Natalia (also played by Oreira, more convincingly this time) and Carlos (Diego Reinhold) are performers at Cristo Park, the only theme park authorized by the Vatican. Still dreaming, Natalia has changed her name to that of the heroine of the groundbreaking ’80s Latin soap, “Cristal.” In the park, she meets and falls for Enrique (Boris Bakst), who plays a Roman gladiator. But a reunion between Natalia and Monica is being engineered for a reality TV show presented by Patricia Peinado (Spanish thesp Rossy de Palma).
Pic bites off too much in its attempt to roll together realism, romance, fantasy and satire, and it doesn’t always elegantly handle its time shifts, multiple moods and genres. But Sastre deserves praise for at least attempting to dramatize parallels among “Fame,” beauty contests and the Catholic Church; all are spectacles about reaching the Promised Land, and pic reps an affectionate, tongue-in-cheek homage to the powerful and confusing impact they have on South American teens.
The strongest scenes are those featuring youngsters Silvera and Capo, where the observations are spot-on. But mostly characterization is unsubtle and in line with the general air of campy overkill, with de Palma overcooking things in particular.
The cast consists mostly of famous tube names at home, where, on its release, pic inevitably generated controversy by having a loincloth-clad Christ (Mike Amigorena, playing ironically with his own TV star status) kissing Natalia. Jeanette Rodriguez, the star of “Cristal,” also turns up as a guardian angel.
Visually, pic is as bright and cheerful as the soundtrack’s unsophisticated ’80s-style pop, featuring an appealing acoustic version of “What a Feeling” and songs by Argentine pop star Ale Sergi. Setpieces, such as overextended scenes in a live TV studio and a well-choreographed final dance sequence, are slickly executed.