Me, Too -- Film Review

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San Sebastian Film Festival -- Competition

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain -- Funny, touching and entertaining with a popular touch, the Spanish "Me, Too" qualifies as one of the finest films describing the world of Down Syndrome in a narrative that is respectful of its characters and bold in its thinking.

The truly delightful cast headlines first-time actor Pablo Pineda, who is already famous for being the first Down person to obtain a university degree in Spain. He's paired with an irresistibly warm and sexy Lola Duenas ("The Sea Inside") as his "normal" love interest.

More than a simple feel-good movie that laughs through its tears, this peppy, offbeat romantic comedy involves audiences deeply while it challenges ingrained prejudices. On its maiden voyage in San Sebastian, the Match Factory title won strong support from critics and audiences alike.

Directing their first feature together, screenwriters Alvaro Pastor and Antonio Naharro adopt a light tone of cheery humor to begin the story of 34-year-old Daniel (Pineda) on his first day as a social service worker in Seville. His parents are proud of him, and his co-workers are careful to be politically correct. They talk down to him until his witty repartees to their dumb questions show he's as intelligent as they are.

He's also as interested in the opposite sex as anyone else, though he has a spontaneity and directness most people lack. He is immediately attracted to the disheveled peroxide blonde at the next desk, Laura (Duenas), a single woman with her own baggage. Her jealous co-workers call her a slut behind her back, but to Daniel she's a goddess. Disenchanted by a series of one-night stands with boring men, she lets Daniel into her life as a friend but balks at going any further.

Will they or won't they go to bed? As Daniel's love for Laura grows, so does his longing to be "normal." Even though Laura is a rebel at heart who scoffs at the idea of normalcy, she is forced -- as is the audience -- to acknowledge his different looks and way of acting, of which Daniel is very much aware. It's a Beauty and the Beast romance where the audience is on the latter's side, even while acknowledging the difficulties of the match.

Pastor and Naharro are clever to put sexuality at the center of the film, forcing the viewer to move beyond knee-jerk responses to people with disabilities. On the same theme is a heart-wrenching subplot involving two Down youngsters in their 20s who fall in love at a dance school run by Daniel's brother Pedro (played by co-director Naharro.)

Pedro (Daniel Parejo) is particularly gifted in modern dance, and the workouts with his sweet partner Luisa lead to a strong mutual attraction. Their over-protective families uphold the sexual taboo and separate them ... but luckily not forever.

The story is punched up by Alfonso Postigo's bright, unfussy cinematography, and lively music credited to Guille Milkyway, but it is the amazing humanity shown by Duenas and Pineda that make the film special.

Production companies: Alicia Produce, Promicio Imagen
Cast: Lola Duenas, Pablo Pineda, Antonio Naharro, Isabel Garcia Lorca, Pedro Alvarez Ossorio, Consuelo Trujillo, Daniel Parejo, Lourdes Naharro
Directors/screenwriters: Alvaro Pastor, Antonio Naharro
Producers: Manuel Gomez Cardena, Julio Medem, Koldo Zuazua
Executive producers: Koldo Zuazua, Emilio Gonzalez
Director of photography: Alfonso Postigo
Production designer: Ines Aparicio
Music: Guille Milkyway
Editor: Nino Martinez Sosa
Sales agent: The Match Factory
No rating, 103 minutes
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