You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Shanghai Film Review: ‘The Good Girls’

The 1982 Mexican economic crisis backdrops Alejandra Márquez Abella's delicious parable of high society brought low.

Alejandra Márquez Abella
Ilse Salas, Flavio Medina, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Paulina Gaitan, Johanna Murillo. (Spanish dialogue)

1 hour 33 minutes

The economy’s a mess but Sofía’s hair is perfect in Alejandra Márquez Abella’s “The Good Girls,” a film that is all surface in a way that is not, for once, a negative. The primped, powdered and shoulder-padded story of the fall from grace of a 1980s Mexican socialite is all about buffed and lustrous surfaces — poreless skin, laquered nails, silken fabrics — all the veneer of social superiority that money can buy. It’s an illusion, of course, that such a thin plating of wealth offers any protection against the changeable climate outside. But it’s such a seductive lie that the vacuous, complacent people thus ensheathed are prone to believe it, forgetting that their glaze of perfection is as brittle as the burnt-sugar topping on a crème brûlée. It’s delicious when it cracks.

We’re introduced to Sofía (Ilse Salas) in fragments: her hair being lathered in the shameless soft-focus slow-motion of a shampoo commercial; her mascara being applied in extreme close-up; her hands smoothing down the cinched waist of her designer dress. Meanwhile, her dreamy voiceover describes a fantasy: a birthday party, thrown for herself at which everything is just so, she is the envy of everyone present in her silk dress from New York, and she catches the eye of party guest Julio Iglesias. The first irony of this deeply sardonic film is that, aside from the Julio Iglesias detail, the fantasy is exactly real. She really does float down the stairs in her New York ivory silk, she really is admired by all and her trendsetting menu — serving octopus — really is quite the hit.

This mordantly witty opening can be read in either of two ways: Either we’re meant to be happy for Sofía given just how closely her real life resembles her wildest fantasy, or we’re supposed to despise her a little for her lack of imagination. A few elegantly snide comments to her similarly immaculate best friend Alejandra (Cassandra Ciangherotti) and a disdainful glance or two at a husband who’s had a little too much to drink, or a wife whose deep unhappiness is peeking through her façade (“tacky” is how the women summarize such lapses), and we’re already opting for the latter. Márquez Abella’s clever little trick is to release us early from the duty of liking her protagonist, the better for us to take dark pleasure in her gradual dismantling.

It’s a process that takes time, with the film’s pacing as luxurious as the tasteful interiors of Sofía’s designer home. She blithely packs her children off to camp and enjoys her usual shopping trips, salon visits and tennis club gossip sessions with her Mean Girls clique. She even condescends to a coffee date with “tacky” parvenu Ana Paula (Paulina Gaitan), the young wife of a local businessman who is, unlike Sofía’s husband Fernando (Flavio Medina), on a hot streak. But soon the burble of economic unrest on the radio, and Fernando’s increasing dishevelment become difficult to ignore and the specter of financial ruin (during Mexico’s 1982 peso crash) creeps closer to Sofía’s inner circle. Credit cards are declined, checks bounce and it’s all she can do to get Fernando to shave and leave the house. “I don’t want the maids thinking their boss is useless,” she hisses.

Not since George Cukor’s “The Women” has the competitive dynamic among a group of wives been as minutely dissected as here, at least not on the big screen, and “The Real Housewives of Altlanta” never boasted such sumptuous filmmaking. But what’s especially refreshing is how little their internal rivalries have to do with their menfolk: These women are hardly feminist role models, but there is something sort of splendid in their absolute and complete self-absorption. Clad in Annai Ramos’ brilliantly observed ’80s costuming, and flattered by Dariela Ludlow’s gorgeous cinematography, which fetishizes objects — tennis rackets and sunglasses and platters of sliced fruit — almost as much as its human subjects, the girls may not be good at all, and they may ultimately derive their self-worth from the value of their husbands’ portfolios, but they are, in their own way and especially around each other, formidable.

If they weren’t, it wouldn’t be so satisfying to see them brought low, a process that is accompanied to sometimes intrusive but always interesting effect by Tomás Barreiro’s hand-clap and heavenly-chorus score. It’s as though the music itself were sarcastically applauding and allelujah-ing not only the downfall of a one-percenter but the moment she is forced to acknowledge that underneath the gloss of privilege there lurks … nothing at all. Who cares that this kind of self-awareness on the part of the rich and shameless could not in reality be more of a fantasy if it ended with Julio Iglesias whisking us away on his yacht? With the wickedly pleasurable exercise in schadenfreude that is “The Good Girls,” we get to have have our crème brulée and eat it too.

Popular on Variety

Shanghai Film Review: 'The Good Girls'

Reviewed at Shanghai International Film Festival, June 16, 2019. (Also in Toronto, Rome, Palm Springs film festivals.) Running time: 93 MIN. (Original title: “Las Niñas Bien”)

Production: (Mexico) A Woo Film production in association with Terminal. (Int'l sales: Luxbox, Paris) Producers: Rodrigo Sebastian Gonzalez, Rafael Ley, Gabriela Maire.

Crew: Director: Alejandra Márquez Abella. Screenplay: Márquez Abella, based on the book by Guadalupe Loaeza. Camera (color, widescreen): Dariela Ludlow. Editor: Miguel Schverdfinger. Music: Tomás Barreiro.

With: Ilse Salas, Flavio Medina, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Paulina Gaitan, Johanna Murillo. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

  • Female Filmmakers in Germany Make Progress

    Female Filmmakers Surge Forward in Germany, But Still Face Obstacles

    Four feature films by German filmmakers screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and three of them were directed by women – Angela Schanelec’s “I Was at Home, But…,” winner of the Berlinale’s best director prize, Ina Weisse’s “The Audition,” and Katrin Gebbe’s “Pelican Blood,” the latter two both starring Nina Hoss. Germany’s Oscar entry this [...]

  • Bull

    Annie Silverstein's 'Bull' Takes Top Awards, Robert Pattinson Starrer 'The Lighthouse' Wins Jury Prize at Deauville

    Annie Silverstein’s feature debut “Bull” swept three awards at the 45th Deauville American Film Festival, including the Grand Prize, the Revelation Prize for best first film and the Critics’ Prize. “Bull,” a portrait of a rebellious teenage girl from South Texas, world premiered at Cannes’s Un Certain Regard and marks Silverstein’s follow up to her [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content