It helps to have friends in high places. Just ask Javier Bardem and his “Biutiful” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, both of whom scored Oscar nominations this week thanks to an aggressive and vociferous push engineered by Julia Roberts and Sean Penn.
It helps to have friends in high places. Just ask Javier Bardem and his “Biutiful” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, both of who scored Oscar nominations this week, thanks to an aggressive and vociferous push engineered by Julia Roberts and Sean Penn.
Great for them. Except there’s one tiny problem: neither Bardem nor Inarritu is the least bit deserving of the honor, leaving two people who are worthy unfairly stranded outside the Kodak Theater on Feb. 27.
Ironically, the guy who had the most rightful claim on the fifth best actor slot, Ryan Gosling for “Blue Valentine,” was in on the Bardem lobbying. At least you can say he’s unselfish. But he’s also dead wrong.
How anyone could find the drivel that is “Biutiful” watchable, let alone award worthy, is truly perplexing. I was no more than 10 minutes into this arduous 160-minute slog when I started checking my watch and staring wantonly at the gorgeous bright red “Exit” sign.
This, of course, left me ample time to compile a very long list of why I found “Biutiful” so “ugli.” Words like pretentious, ponderous and portentous filled my head, and those were just the ones beginning with P. Don’t even ask me about the ones starting with S and F. This is a family newspaper, after all.
Mostly, it was the B-word –– BORING –– that dominated my thoughts. Or at least it did until my mind eventually shorted out in the midst of a melodramatic overload that leaves no telenovela cliche untouched. Name a malady and you can safely bet that Inarritu crammed it into a screenplay he co-wrote with a couple of hacks from the world of Argentine advertising, Armando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone.
Let’s see, there’s a bipolar wife having an affair with her husband’s horn-dog brother; illegal immigrants slaving for peanuts in sweatshops; a mortal man who converses with his long-dead father; gay Chinese lovers; deported drug dealers; terminal cancer; and a carbon monoxide accident that racks up a death toll rivaling Heaven’s Gate (the cult, not the movie, though that was pretty lethal, too). I could go on, but why should I bore you when the movie does such a good job of it on its own?
It’s telling that this is the first time Inarritu is working without screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, who penned the director’s previous Oscar-nominated works, “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams” and “Babel.” It’s also the first time Inarritu forgoes the multi-stranded, nonlinear storytelling style that marked his first three films.
“Biutiful,” for better or worse –– mostly worse –– is a straight-ahead narrative chronicling the final weeks in the life of Bardem’s Uxbal, a terminally ill Barcelonan possessing more personalities than Sybil Dorsett. He’s a loving father one minute, an abusive one the next.
After he soothes and comforts his mentally ill wife (Maricel Alvarez), he intensively berates her. When he’s not a humanitarian, offering shelter to a family from a foreign land, he’s a slave trader, farming out poor immigrants to illegal factories. Then there’s the street-corner drug dealing and his nefarious association with various other low lives, including his brother (Eduard Fernandez), who frequents strip clubs where the ladies paste plastic nipples on their derrieres.
Yes, Uxbal is living la vida loca. He even pees blood and wets his pants for our enjoyment –– all part of Inarritu’s plan to beat us over the head with the fact that Uxbal is dying of advanced prostate cancer. The disease also has left Uxbal with an uncanny ability to chat with dead people, namely his father, who talks poetically about owls coughing up fur balls when they die. Fascinating!
Of course, Uxbal fails to mention to dear ol’ Dad that he and his brother are plotting to exhume his remains so they can sell his burial plot for cash and send what’s left of Pops (yes, we are shown his rotting corpse) off to the crematorium. Fine man, that Uxbal.
It’s all quite funny, albeit unintentionally. But the biggest laughs are reserved for Inarritu’s ludicrous assumption that audiences will care a lick about such a foul, unappealing man. Like Tony Soprano, Uxbal is responsible for ruining countless lives, undermining his nation’s economy and making a mockery of law enforcement. Yup, he’s a swell guy, and it’s a shame he’s going to die, though not soon enough for some moviegoers.
Yet, it could have been worse. It could have been an actor much less talented than Bardem, who does wonders with such a repulsive character. But, as great an actor as Bardem is, he’s simply no match for a lousy, discombobulated script that’s anything but beautiful.
Reach Al Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIUTIFUL (R for disturbing images, language, some sexual content, nudity and drug use.) Cast includes Javier Bardem, Eduard Fernandez and Maricel Alvarez. Co-written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. In Spanish with English subtitles. At Kendall Square, Cambridge. 1.5 stars out of 4.