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[whitespace] 'Son of the Bride'
Photograph by Libio Pensavalle

Bosom Buddies Ricardo Darín enjoys the company of Natalia Verbeke (left) and Claudia Fontán in 'Son of the Bride.'

Redemption Cinema

'Son of the Bride' puts an Argentinian spin on a familiar story

By Jim Aquino

JUAN JOSÉ CAMPANELLA'S Son of the Bride is essentially an Argentinian version of treacly middle-aged redemption cinema (Life As a House, K-PAX, Regarding Henry and the third act of Cast Away). What makes those movies unbearable is their tweedy, cloying tone, from the feel-good dialogue to the goopy cinematography to the even more goopy life-affirming posters, which always look like they would make great illustrations for that Christian parable "Footprints." Campanella's worldview is equally optimistic--and sure, the climax is on the treacly side--but he is also angry and disillusioned with Argentina's economic and political turmoil and the failure of institutions like the Catholic Church. That frustration gives the movie some bite.

Son of the Bride centers on Rafael Belvedere (Ricardo Darín), a self-absorbed, chain-smoking workaholic of a restaurant owner who has estranged himself from everyone in his life, from his much younger girlfriend (gorgeous Natalia Verbeke of Jump Tomorrow) to his Spanish immigrant father (Héctor Alterio), who founded Rafael's business and seeks his son's help in remarrying Rafael's mother (Norma Aleandro), who suffers from Alzheimer's. Rafael's hard living leads to a mild heart attack, which causes him to reprioritize his life.

The movie even gives Rafael an eccentric comic-relief childhood buddy named Juan Carlos (Eduardo Blanco) to help him out with his redemption. The best-friend character is a cliché, but it's revitalized by Blanco, who has often been compared by reviewers to Roberto Benigni but looks more like a Latin version of Batman's butler Alfred. There's pathos in Blanco's widower character, but fortunately, it's not of the twinkly-eyed "you gotta love me" kind that's characteristic of so many American comedians who want to play serious. Blanco's presence is highlighted by a funny sequence on a movie set (Juan Carlos works as an extra) and an even funnier closing-credits moment involving the film's best running joke, Rafael's obsession with a mysterious man known as "Dick Watson."

What grounds the film and keeps it from overdoing the sentimentality is the Dick Watson bit, Campanella's commentary on Argentina and some smart dialogue, especially during a scene in which Rafael launches into a tirade about the church to his priest after the ineffectual cleric tells him his superiors won't allow his parents to remarry. The exchange recalls Billy Wilder at his sharpest and most hard-bitten. The priest tells Rafael, "God is neither man nor woman and is neither black nor white." Rafael retorts, "That's not God. That's Michael Jackson."

Son of the Bride (R; 123 min.), directed by Juan José Campanella, written by Fernando Castets and Campanella, photographed by Daniel Shulman and starring Natalia Verbeke, Ricardo Darín and Eduardo Blanco, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the April 11-17, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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