Movies as sexy and colorful as Broken Embraces really shouldn’t feel this boring. But that’s the troubling thing that’s happened with the work of Pedro Almodvar, whose catty, chatty melodramas now play like dutiful festival mainstays rather than truly vibrant alternatives. The Spanish director is too assured not to serve up a spicy meal—and his longtime leading lady, Penlope Cruz, is riding a fascinating crest of post--Vicky Cristina Barcelona complexity. But watching the new film is like getting upsettingly full on insubstantial tapas: You would never say no to just one more, but there’s better.
After a standout opening seduction in which a blind man manages to charm an assistant half his age out of her jeans, the movie settles into a strangely stilted four-way. There’s the aforementioned lothario with the pen name “Harry Caine” (Homar), once a popular film director but now a screenwriter in the dark; his former producer, a shady businessman whom we see only in flashback; the young secretary they both shared as a lover (Cruz); and a mysterious, intense videographer (Ochandiano) out for unspecified vengeance.
Shifts in tone between comic frustrations and romantic jealousy are elegant—and too polite from the maker of the sparky Talk to Her. We’re supposed to care about the fate of a botched farce, stolen from the director’s hands and disastrously recut, but such editing-table discussions are stalled in an echo chamber of Hitchcock allusions (mainly for snobs only). Eventually, the movie meanders to a lost-father story and one revelation too many. Almodvar needs to push himself again.—Joshua Rothkopf
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