A slick, nicely contempo romantic comedy that’s occasionally smart enough to define the problems of post-millennial amor, “The Opposite of Love” is nonetheless never more than likable. Livelier than similar Spanish fare by virtue of its knowing air, Vicente Villanueva’s feature debut (following some highly regarded shorts) , has moments of real wit but fails to strike the right emotional sparks, most crucially between its leads. A high-profile cast on loan from TV should generate interest in Hispanic territories, but elsewhere, the pic will discover that the opposite of love is indifference.
New ager Merce (Adriana Ugarte), who calls herself a “metamorphic masseuse,” trapped in an elevator with her sis, Loreto (Guadalupe Sancho), is rescued by a trio of implausibly attractive firefighters — Raul (Hugo Silva), Tono (Alex Barahona) and Salva (Ruben Diaz). All duly fall for her and call for a massage; Merce duly sleeps with all three on consecutive nights.
When Raul finds out she’s slept with his buddies, his suffering shows Merce that his longing is about more than sex. Rest of the pic charts their relationship as it warms and cools, with both fretting, in time-honored fashion, over whether they are in a relationship or not, whether they are lovers or friends, and about what it all means. A general picture emerges of a generation that’s confused about its values.
Loreto, nicely played by Sancho, is a one-hit singer desperate for another bite at fame, but who now is unable to pick up even a single Twitter follower. Her troubled relationship with her manager, Fidel (Luis Callejo), is deftly portrayed and delivers an emotional punch lacking in that between Merce and Raul.
Also good is the burgeoning, comic homoeroticism of Tono and Salva, who realize they are more interested in one another’s ripped muscles and uniforms than they are in girls, and who end up watching gay porn vids at home.
One of the pic’s chief problems is that neither Merce nor Raul is particularly likable. Ugarte does good, naturalistic work as the perpetually uncertain Merce, with the wolfish-faced Silva struggling to match her freshness and spontaneity during their interminable face-to-faces. The revelation that Raul is in fact afraid of fire (but still able to hold down a job as a firefighter), a clumsy attempt to make him more sympathetic, in fact just strips him of his last shred of credibility.
The furiously wordy script features enough decent gags to justify the ride, including one about a cocaine dealer who claims to give 5% of his profits to charity. The final 20 minutes shows the script descending into the kind of cliches the pic had previously mostly sidestepped.
David Carretero’s lensing artfully transforms Madrid into an appropriately colorful backdrop for romance. Teresa Font’s editing is enjoyably snappy. Contempo pop songs rep a more interesting background than Julio de la Rosa’s somewhat bland score.