Manuela y Manuel



AFI Fest

Drag queen Manuel, who prefers to be known as Manuela, is having a bad day. His lover has left, his landlady is demanding the rent, and to make matters worse, his best friend Coca is pregnant. The last thing he needs is to pass as straight in order to please Coca's conservative family, but he's loyal to a fault, and he agrees to play the part of Coca's fiance and father of her child.

The story has some not-so-subtle echoes of "La Cage aux Folles," which has already been recycled into a Broadway musical as well as the Hollywood hit "The Birdcage." Coca's conservative father is exactly like the hypocritical bluenose played by Gene Hackman in "The Birdcage." While this version, transplanted to Puerto Rico, has some amusing twists and a pleasing color-drenched tropical palette, it doesn't come close to the hilarity of its predecessors. While it pleased audiences at AFI Fest and might find receptive crowds at gay film festivals, it isn't potent enough to have much future in U.S. theaters.

One problem is that the nightclub scenes don't have the musical verve needed to set the whole enterprise in motion. In addition, the script is shrill and broad when it should be witty. There are a lot of promising characters, including the landlady and her desperate niece, but most of the actors have been encouraged to play their roles at a hysterical pitch. They need some quieter moments. Nevertheless, Humberto Busto as the embattled hero does have the right pluck for the role of Manuela. The attractive Elena Iguina wins our sympathy as Coca. But Emmanuel Sunshine Logrono as the rightwing father overdoes his character's loutishness; he doesn't find the humor that Hackman brought to a similar role.

The plot lumbers along in fits and starts until it reaches the climactic wedding scene, when it finally hits some comic high notes. In the tradition of classic farce, all of the characters come together, and unexpected fireworks result. When the real father of Coca's child turns up to disrupt the proceedings, Manuela saves the day and wins the affection and respect of all. This scene works smoothly, but it comes too late, and a lengthy, unnecessary coda back at the nightclub dissipates some of the fun. The best elements in the picture are the colorful sets and costumes; they exhibit a flair not matched by the script.

Caleidoscopio Films
Director/Editor: Raul Marchand Sanchez
Screenwriter: Jose Ignacio Valenzuela
Producer: Frances Lausell Diaz
Executive producer: Sonia Fritz Macias
Director of photography: Sonnel Velazquez
Production designer: Rafi Mercado
Music: Geronimo Mercado
Manuela/Manuel: Humberto Busto
Coca: Elena Iguina
Rosa: Luz Maria Rondon
German: Emmanuel Sunshine Logrono
Faraona: Marian Pabon
Margarita: Ineabelle Colon
Norma: Marisol Calero
Arturo: Israel Lugo
Ramon: Johnny Lozada
Running time -- 94 minutes
No MPAA rating