×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Perfect Strangers’ (Perfectos desconocidos)

Manolo Caro's entertaining Mexican remake of an Italian hit stages a radically transparent dinner party.

Director:
Manolo Caro
With:
Cecilia Suarez, Bruno Bichir, Franky Martin, Mariana Trevino, Ana Claudia Talancon, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Miguel Rodarte

1 hour 37 minutes

The premise of Paolo Genovese’s 2016 Italian hit “Perfetti sconosciuti” was simple: A group of longtime friends – three couples, and one seventh wheel – gather for an intimate dinner party, and in a sort of ill-advised parlor game, decide to spend the evening with their cell phones on the table, reading all their incoming texts and DMs out loud, and taking all their incoming calls on speaker. After all, among such close friends and happy couples, who has anything to hide?

Set amongst Mexico City’s upper-middle-class, Manolo Caro’s “Perfect Strangers” (Perfectos desconocidos) is one of several international remakes that have already bowed in South Korea, Greece, France and elsewhere. Released in Mexico late last year, Caro’s seriocomic adaptation alternates between a tense, well-acted chamber drama and an at times overly didactic parable, but its focus on our newfound willingness to collect all of our darkest secrets behind such an easily pierced veil – do we realize how precarious that tightrope we’re walking is? On some level, are we secretly hoping we might fall? – provides for plenty of squeamish entertainment.

With a score straight out of a horror film and a roving camera that tracks down hallways and in and out of windows like a stalking killer, Caro deftly builds tension early on, even though none of the actual action onscreen suggests anything particularly high-stakes is occurring. We’re introduced to our fortysomething cast as they get ready for a dinner party at the home of psychologist Eva (Cecilia Suarez) and her plastic surgeon husband, Antonio (Bruno Bichir), who are at odds over how to deal with their rebellious teenage daughter. There’s Flora (Mariana Trevino), a tipsy mother of two, and her alienated husband Ernesto (Miguel Rodarte). There’s serial entrepreneur Mario (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and his wife Ana (Ana Claudia Talancon), who is still a bit of an outsider to this tight-knit group. And arriving late to the party is Pepe (Franky Martin), a disheveled, newly unemployed teacher whose mysterious new girlfriend had to cancel at the last minute. To add an oblique touch of the supernatural, the party happens to coincide with a lunar eclipse.

Caro’s screenplay adaptation does well to sketch out the character dynamics early on without landing too hard on straight exposition, with plenty of gossip about unseen acquaintances and half-explained inside jokes that make the group believable as an intimate unit. Eventually a discussion of one such offscreen friend, whose marriage was destroyed by a cell phone snafu, prompts Eva to wonder if any one of them would survive opening up “the black box of our lives” to the whole group. Pepe – conveniently, the only one without a spouse present – eggs her on, and their night of radical transparency begins.

At first, the disclosures are low-key: A prank, an invitation to a beer-league soccer match which reveals that one of the men has been surreptitiously cut from the team, and a bit of a commotion when a call from Eva’s father lets slip that she’s scheduled a breast augmentation surgery. Indeed, the expected fireworks are slower in coming than one might expect, but the film is at its most incisive when it ponders the slippery ways that innocent online behavior is uncharitably recontextualized IRL.

The first major complication arrives when Ernesto corners Pepe and asks to temporarily switch phones. He’s expecting a text from a female admirer, and figures Pepe can simply pass it off as a come-on from his absent new girlfriend. The initial ruse works, but before the phones can be switched back, Pepe’s phone receives a revealing call of his own, and Ernesto has to spend the rest of the night improvising explanations for a situation that he himself doesn’t understand. This is the twist that finally starts to bring the group’s lingering tensions out into the open, but the contrivances surrounding it can’t help but ring a bit false.

By the time the big glass-smashing secrets start to unravel, Caro has spent so much time with the build-up that the payoff comes on a little too quickly, and the screamed recriminations prove far less interesting than the simmering intrigue of the first two acts. (A subplot exploring this ostensibly open-minded group’s closeted homophobia is well-intentioned, if a tad on the nose.) But the actors – particularly Caro’s previous “House of Flowers” collaborator Suarez – all do admirable work grounding their characters with both relatable dilemmas and prickly jagged edges, and Caro is never too eager to make these people likable that he sacrifices believability. In fact, one of the film’s cleverest turns comes when Antonio gets a call from his daughter, and stuns his wife by delivering some sensitive, note-perfect parenting. Perhaps in the rush to conceal all our dirty laundry, we end up hiding some secret virtues, too.

Film Review: 'Perfect Strangers' (Perfectos desconocidos)

Reviewed at Lionsgate screening room, Santa Monica, December 10, 2018.

Production: A Lionsgate/Pantelion release of a Pantelion Films, Cinepolis, Noc Noc Cinema, Woo Films, Medusa Films presentation. Produced by Manolo Caro, Rafa Ley, Maria Jose Cordova, Rodrigo S. Gonzalez, Miguel Mier, Miguel Rivera, Leo Cordero.

Crew: Directed, written by Manolo Caro, based on the original screenplay by Paolo Genovese. Camera (color): Pedro Gomez Millan. Editor: Miguel Musalem. Music: Rodrigo Davila, Fernando Escalante.

With: Cecilia Suarez, Bruno Bichir, Franky Martin, Mariana Trevino, Ana Claudia Talancon, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Miguel Rodarte

More Film

  • Singapore Actor Aloysius Pang, 28, Dies

    Singaporean Actor Aloysius Pang, 28, Dies While on Military Service

    Singaporean actor Aloysius Pang died Wednesday of injuries sustained while on military training in New Zealand. He was 28. Pang was best known for his appearance in movies “Young & Fabulous” and “Timeless Love.” He also had a string of credits in Singapore TV series. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas [...]

  • Alibaba Lends $100 Million to Huayi

    Alibaba Lends $100 Million to Huayi Bros. in Film Investment Expansion

    Alibaba Pictures Group, the film business arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has struck a strategic cooperation deal with leading film studio Huayi Bros. The deal includes a $103 million (RMB700 million) loan to Huayi. Alibaba Pictures said the agreement was part of its recently announced strategy to be involved in major movies aimed for [...]

  • Netflix Buys Taiwan Black Comedy 'Dear

    Netflix Buys Taiwan Black Comedy 'Dear Ex'

    Netflix has added to its roster of Mandarin-language content with the acquisition of rights to Taiwanese dark comedy “Dear Ex.” The award-winning film will play out from Feb. 1. The story involves a recently bereaved widow and a gay man fighting over a dead man’s inheritance, with the woman’s teenage son caught in the middle. [...]

  • Audrey Wells

    Film News Roundup: Audrey Wells Scholarships Launched by UCLA, China's Pearl Studio

    In today’s film news roundup, Pearl Studio and UCLA start a “Say Yes!” scholarship in memory of Audrey Well; Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale are honored; and the “General Magic” documentary gets bought. SCHOLARSHIPS UNVEILED More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful 'Jazz & Piano' TV Review: 'Russian Doll' [...]

  • Honey Boy Knock Down the House

    Sundance Hot Titles List: 13 Buzzy Films That Have Buyers Talking

    There’s a good reason that much of Hollywood braves the thin mountain air each year to make the trek to the Sundance Film Festival, and it’s not to check out the nearby ski slopes. The annual launch of the indie film gathering brings with it the possibility of discovering the next big thing in moviemaking. [...]

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    Will Oscar Nominations Give This Year's Contenders a Box Office Boost?

    With nominees like “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star Is Born,” the 2018 class of movies proved the Oscars don’t need a popular films category to recognize movies that also made bank in theaters. But now that the academy has selected this year’s crop of awards hopefuls, is there any green left to squeeze [...]

  • A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's

    Sundance: A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's Romance-Drama 'The Souvenir'

    A24 has bought the North American rights to Tilda Swinton’s romance-drama “The Souvenir – Part 2,” closing the deal on the eve of the Sundance Film Festival. “The Souvenir” is set to make its world premiere at Sundance on Jan. 27, followed by playing in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival in February. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content