Standing out amid this year’s Mexican festival fare, which tended toward the gritty and the challenging, “Paradise,” a sophomore effort from helmer-writer Mariana Chenillo (“Nora’s Will”), is as soft, sweet and insubstantial as a marshmallow. Centering on an overweight couple whose move from the middle-class suburbs to Mexico City tests their steady, loving relationship, this mainstream romantic comedy suffers from sitcom-style tonal shifts that reflect Chenillo’s recent experience helming the second season of TV hit “Soy tu fan.” Although it lacks the same crossover credentials as “Nora,” it should please the undemanding end of the arthouse spectrum in Spanish-lingo territories.
Unfolding from a female point of view, this wistful, true-love-conquers-all fantasy raises any number of issues, including how to fit (literally and metaphorically) into a place that is very different from the one you grew up in, and how to overcome the fear of change and find fulfillment.
Rotund soulmates Carmen (Daniela Rincon, a real find in her first starring role) and Alfredo (Andres Almeida) hail from the friendly, easygoing suburb of Satelite (the pic’s eponymous paradise). They’ve been an item since high school. She works for her (similarly stout) family’s accounting business; he handles IT for a big bank.
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When Alfredo receives a promotion that requires them to move to the sprawling capital, Carmen gives up her clients in order to be a full-time homemaker. The move proves harder for her as she continually misses the convenience and cozy atmosphere of their longtime home. When she overhears two women snickering about the fat couple at the bank’s glamorous annual party, it wounds her self-esteem. Suddenly ill at ease in her new body-conscious milieu, Carmen decides to start a weight-loss program. Although Alfredo insists that he loves his “pumpkin” the way she is, he decides to support her by eating the healthy new meals and attending the Weight Watchers-style meetings and weigh-ins.
As the weeks pass and the pounds practically fall off Alfredo, he becomes progressively more interested in exercise and expensive clothes. Meanwhile, try as she might, Carmen can barely lose an ounce — and she isn’t exactly thrilled to receive workout equipment for Christmas. Moreover, her diet doesn’t get any easier when she joins a Mediterranean cuisine class, although it does enable an underdone subplot about a cooking competition that she enters. When an attractive bank employee (Camila Selser) makes a play for Alfredo, Carmen, already despondent over their varying degrees of dieting success, decides it’s the last straw.
Chenillo deserves kudos for not making the weight issue Carmen’s central problem, and for steering clear of mean-spirited fat jokes. Yet she sells short the problems of Carmen and Alfredo’s marriage and how they might work them out, suddenly shifting gears into the cooking-competition subplot.
Rincon and Almeida evince real chemistry together and pretty much carry the pic on their sturdy shoulders. Apart from Selser, Daniel Haddad as a fellow weight-loss hopeful who desires pretty Carmen, and the program staff (Luis Gerardo Mendez, Anabel Ferreira), the other supporting characters are either bland or stuck in the realm of caricature.
Bright lensing by Yaron Orbach (“Can a Song Save Your Life?”) proves sensitive to Carmen’s perspective while delivering plenty of visual humor; the clever costume designs manage to pinpoint exactly when the lovebirds start to have trouble. The overdetermined music track further underscores the film’s sitcom style.