'Second Star on the Right' ('Segunda estrella a la derecha'): Film Review | Outfest 2019

Ovella Blava Films & Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano
Determined to be unconventional.

Ruth Caudeli’s Spanish drama tracks the often self-destructive whims of a struggling actress attempting to adjust to adulthood.

Much like her film’s protagonist, writer-director Ruth Caudeli’s Second Star on the Right is a bit of a hot mess. Charting a few fraught weeks in the life of an emotionally erratic Spanish actress and her dysfunctional relationships with lovers, friends and family, this indie feature takes its time delivering a familiar message: Growing up can be hard to do.

Adulthood still hasn’t caught up with Emilia (Silvia Varon), who’s 35, single, marginally employed and still living at home with her mom. Although her three best friends from university have at least a semblance of settled lives and are all married, engaged or at least eligible, Emilia considers her bisexual orientation sufficient explanation for her perennially semi-single status, although her almost-girlfriend Mariana (Diana Wiswell) consistently signals her willingness for Emilia to move in and solidify a committed relationship.

That offer becomes more attractive after she loses her job teaching acting classes due to her chronic tardiness and tendency to party uninhibitedly with her young students. Fortunately her best friend Angelica (Alejandra Lara) offers to hire her as an assistant at her upscale advertising firm, where Emilia struggles to confine her creative priorities to off-work hours. When yet another drunken episode seriously jeopardizes her relationship with Mariana, Emilia is forced to reevaluate her priorities.

Caudeli, who has completed a variety of shorts and recently screened her feature Eva and Candela (also starring Varon) at the Boston LGBT Film Festival, tends to overplay the contrasts between Emilia’s wild-child tendencies and her friends’ more settled lives, often depicting her as compulsively and deliberately vindictive. Emilia’s superior attitude towards the women she considers her best friends doesn’t make her any more likable, either, as she criticizes Clara’s (Tatiana Renteria) parenting style, Renata’s (Ximena Rodriguez) painfully lonely single status and Angelica’s bourgeois career striving.

Caudeli’s collaboration with Varon on the script and film editing may help contextualize their frequently indulgent treatment of Varon’s character, but other than recognizing that she badly needs professional help, it’s unclear why her friends even put up with Emilia. Varon brings a focused intensity to the role, which as often as not tends to overwhelm whatever scene she’s over-emoting through. The supporting castmembers all have their individual charms, mostly smothered by the overbearingly immature protagonist.

Shot primarily in black and white, though punctuated by scenes in vibrant color when Emilia is at her most ecstatic while partying with friends, Caudeli’s choice of formats does more to emphasize the shortcomings of the narrative than convey any type of bold stylistic statement.

Production companies: Ovella Blava Films, Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano
Cast: Silvia Varon, Ximena Rodriguez, Gina Medina, Diana Wiswell, Tatiana Renteria, Alejandra Lara, Lorena Castellanos, Andres Jimenez
Director: Ruth Caudeli
Screenwriters: Ruth Caudeli, Silvia Varon
Producer: Sara Larrota
Executive producer: Ruth Caudeli, Silvia Varon
Directors of photography: Andres Botero, Alejandro Sandoval      
Editors: Ruth Caudeli, Silvia Varon
Venue: Outfest Los Angeles

85 minutes