Tuesday, October 18, 2016

No Manches Frida


After serving his one-year jail sentence, Zequi Alcántara (Omar Chaparro) is pardoned and declared a free man. Fresh out of prison, he is taken by his pole dancer girlfriend to Instituto Frida Kahlo, where the money bag he got incarcerated for is now buried under a newly constructed building. Left with no choice, he is forced to apply for a maintenance position left by a recently deceased staff member just to get into the school grounds and dig through to get his bounty. In an unexpected turn of events, he is mistaken for an applicant for a teaching position and is hired on the spot, after everyone backs out when they witness one of the teachers jump out of the window. With an attractive monthly salary on offer, he willingly accepts, and then preys on naive co-faculty Lucy (Martha Higareda) so he can steal her credentials and make his new stint legit. What he doesn’t know is that there is hell waiting for him at the lecture hall of class 4B, where everyone who substitutes ends up being terrorized by that level's uncontrollable students.

School of Rock immediately came to mind when I saw the trailer for this film a few months ago. To be clear, though, No Manches Frida is an adaptation of a German film called Fack ju Göhte. Even so, the similarities are not easy to dismiss because of the main character being an impostor, and how absurd everything seems to be for them to easily get in just like that. But the key to enjoying such films is to suspend disbelief and simply ride along, even when we know that the possibility of it happening in real life is rather questionable.

The plot of both movies unfolds the same way. There really is no point convincing yourself that it’s going to have an unpredictable ending. There seems to be an entire subgenre tackling narratives of this sort, and the surefire box office formula is to deliver a feel-good movie that will make you believe in second chances. If that is what you came for, then you will enjoy this film, no doubt.

While this movie’s hilarity does not rely much on pop culture references specific to Mexico, the slang some of the characters use tends to be a bit inaccessible for those who are not that familiar with Mexican Spanish. This will not pose a big problem if you already speak a decent level of the language. If anything, it will even help you get acquainted to it even more. If not and you are planning to watch it with subtitles, then some of the humor might get lost in translation. But still, the movie is rife with situational humor that transcends language barriers anyway. You will still be laughing your ass off, but you are bound to miss out on the funny exchange of one-liners.

Both Chaparro and Higareda are convincing in their roles. They also have enough chemistry for you to actually ship them, even though the romance angle appears to be forced from time to time. It eventually takes a sudden turn for the intolerably mushy, but let’s just cut them some slack since they do a good job in making us laugh anyway. This appears to be his first foray into the big screen as lead, and he does not disappoint. For someone who has roots in standup comedy, breaking through movie leading man status and succeeding at your first try is a remarkable achievement. She, on the other hand, resembles a younger and hotter Sally Field. The brand of naivety with which she characterized her role is not that annoying as you would expect it to be. However, I have not seen any other film of hers to say if she is being stereotyped or not.

A cliché story is unavoidable when it comes to mainstream cinema, but if the attack of the director makes up for it and ends up giving you a good time, then it’s not really that bad a deal. No Manches Frida has had an impressive box office run in Mexico, which means people are still longing for such kind of enjoyable distraction. Besides, despite all the predictability and the mush, it still manages to send a positive message that will make you reflect on life in general, and maybe the current state and quality of education that the younger generation is receiving nowadays too. That makes everything socially relevant, but perhaps we're pushing it too far? After all, this is a formulaic comedy, not a social commentary.

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