‘My Big Night’ (‘Mi Gran Noche’): San Sebastian Review

My Great Night 2 - H 2015
Courtesy of Film Factory Entertainment
Vertiginous, vacuous, dated fun.

Alex de la Iglesia reunites old friends for a riotous grand folly about the shooting of a New Year TV special.

“It’s all so absurd, you can all just do what you want,” the floor manager barks out at the multiple extras in My Big Night, and that’s exactly what director Alex de la Iglesia has done. The days of film makers pretending that fiction can outdo reality may be long gone, but this madcap comedy -- and yes, it’s basically old-fashioned enough to deserve that moniker -- shows that de la Iglesia seems prepared to give it one last shot with this yarn about the struggle to film a New Year TV special.

If you wanted to get serious about My Big Night, you’d say that it was a 60s-inspired, Fellini-esque record of the night that old-style variety performance, swollen by its own audience-seeking successes, finally blew up. But My Big Night doesn’t want you to get serious. It wants you to sit back and enjoy the ride, and mostly you will, if overblown kitsch, hammerhead subtlety and gags are your thing. What’s frustrating is not the film itself, but its director: de la Iglesia seems permanently blighted by a boyish restlessness which so far has prevented him from slowing down and taking stock to make the special film he’s capable of. My Big Night will do big business in Spain, but it’s a very Hispanic item which will consolidate rather than enhance his reputation amongst his festival fans.

It is October. In the studios of a non-too fictionalized Spanish TV station, the 2015 New Year’s Eve Special is being filmed. Outside the building there are wild scenes involving pickets, police and an autograph-hunting public, and inside, things are even worse as a lighting rig collapses and kills an extra. This is not a tender-hearted film, but it does dole out a cerrtain sympathy to the miserable lives led by film and TV extras, here embodied by the embattled, unfortunate Jose (Pepon Nieto), who is drafted in to fill the space left by the dead man.

Jose is normal: nobody else is, since they’ve been locked into the studio for 10 days already. Around him, several stories are unspooling. The funniest one for Spanish viewers involves the evil Alphonso (Raphael, the “ph” in both names a canny nod to the pretentious, aspirational non-Spanish spelling of “Rafael”), a 60s survivor still belting out deathless, fruity ballads after all these years, much like the singer/actor playing him. Alphonso has had to cede the slot for first song of 2016 to Adanne (a bemuscled, wig-wearing Spanish teen idol Mario Casas, up for it), about 45 years his junior, and is determined with the aid of his put-upon, stupid assistant (and son) Juli (Carlos Areces) to wrest it back. This involves practically gouging out Adan’s eye, but meanwhile Adanne has other problems: a vial of his sperm has been stolen by a girl who plans to get pregnant with it and hit Adanne with a paternity suit.

Other notable characters (and they’re by no means all notable) are the attractive Paloma (Blanca Suarez), who strangely flirts with Jose but who is jinxed, a running joke which quickly starts to limp; director, hard-smoking Rosa (Carmen Machi), doing a terrific, energetic turn; presenters Roberto (Hugo Silva) and Cristina (Carolina Bang), who hate each other, surprise surprise, with Cristina cleverly turning out the sexist patter of their cheesy double act; and Benitez (Santiago Segura of Torrente fame, currently Spain’s best-known funny man, here gifted, perhaps ironically by his old buddy de la Iglesias, the straightest role of the evening.) Almost inevitably, Terele Pavez as Jose’s mother, a long-time de la Iglesias standby in a film full of them, turns up to steal the show whenever she appears.

My Big Night is itself about as subversive as the TV show it's about. There’s no point in satirizing all this spectacular excess, the film suggests, especially if you suspect that there’s a part of de la Iglesia which really, really likes it: let’s just have fun. It’s all crazed, madcap, and unfailingly breathless, if not unfailingly inventive, even at the visual level: and little about it lingers in the memory for longer than about five minutes after the credits roll.

This being a Spanish comedy, the acting is ham-flavored. There are a few laugh-aloud moments but no real sharp edge anywhere, except when images of Francoist newsreels are accidentally projected behind one of the (actually quite well-done) dance sequences. At this point, the film is briefly both funny and edgy, and it’s felt most strongly as a reminder of the film’s multiple wasted opportunities.

Technically it’s dazzling, a headache-inducing riot of color and energy which extends to the actually pretty tightly choreographed dance sequences. (It's also an extremely noisy film.) The score is a weak point, over-employed, with cliched plucked strings signaling comic suspense just as they have done for decades. Nod and wink in-jokes abound, both for Spaniards and for cinephiles, with the final scene, for example an explicit homage to the conclusion of Blake Edwards’ 1968 Peter Sellers vehicle The Party.

Special mention must be made of Raphael, a sprightly Spanish 71 year-old with a still-titanic voice who has sold millions of records, but who is a figure of fun in Spain to most people under 55. He really didn’t need to do this, but he acquits himself well, in a bravely self-parodic way, has been gifted the best lines, and makes a more credible James Bond comedy villain than many actors who can't sing. If Raphael’s audience can be persuaded off their sofas and into cinemas, it will make a big difference to My Big Night’s fortunes, but this is a canny move which will make him new fans in these oh-so-ironical times. The title, inevitably, is also the title of a Raphael hit from 1967.

Production company: Enrique Cerezo P.C.
Cast: Raphael, Mario Casas, Pepon Nieto, Blanca Suarez, Santiago Segura, Carlos Areces, Enrique Villen, Jaime Ordonez, Terele Pavez, Carolina Bang, Hugo Silva
Director: Alex de la Iglesia
Screenwriter: Alex de la Iglesia, Jorge Guerricaecheverria
Producer: Carlos Bernases
Director of photography: Angel Amoros
Production designers: Arturo Garcia (Biafra), Jose Luis Arrizabalaga (Arri)
Costume designer: Paola Torres
Editor: Domingo Gonzalez
Composer: Joan Valent
Sales: Film Factory Entertainment

14A, 100 minutes