More clever than funny, “The Laws of Thermodynamics” is a feature length Spanish language (Catalan?) “Big Bang Theory,” without the punchlines, rimshots and rhythms of a sitcom.
A lovelorn astrophysics grad student falls for an “It” girl model in Barcelona, and the orbits, entropy, and inevitabilities of their relationship, and those of a handful of friends, are explained by a score of scientists who run through the assorted “laws that nothing and nobody can escape.”
Vito Sanz is Manel, who is working on his thesis and “star” and director of this documentary about all he’s learned and been through, “The Laws of Thermodynamics.”
He puzzles over these laws and how they work on our own emotional behavior, and stands outside the calamity of pursuing and winning — briefly — the fair Elena (Berta Vázquez). She is a model, and here’s how they meet.
Every man on a city square in Barcelona is distracted by the stunning vision of her on a digital billboard. Several notice the real Elena walking, smoking and staring into her phone beneath that billboard. A whole collection of people, including lawyer Eva (Vicky Luengo) and his rival-pal, the hunky womanizing ad-man Pablo (Chino Darín) literally crash into each other and Elena — the men distracted, poor Eva trapped in their collision.
Shockingly, Elena responds to Manel’s average looks and above average brains, and they connect. He bails out of a previous relationship, lured into her “orbit.” Every hetersexual man in that corner of Catalunya is drawn, by gravity, to her.
A clever moment — a special effect/graphic representation pf orbits around Elena on the dance floor of a vast, crowded Barcelona club.
It’s a movie peppered with explanations of the numbered laws of thermodynamics, the Law of Quantum Entanglement by scientists from the University of Cambride, University of Madrid, University of Durham, astrophysicists from the big Canary Islands telescope, etc.
The scientists speak English, Elena, Manel and those in their orbit speak Spanish with English subtitles.
Manel is a teaching assistant in a college thermodynamics course and working on his thesis. Pablo is working on sleeping with a lot of beautiful women.
And Elena chooses Manel, even as we learn that “”energy transforms” in atoms, the universe and love, that “the quality of the energy” changes if not the actual amount of it (quantity), that “inertia” and “entropy” set in as love turns into indifference.
“This bunch of organized atoms has decided it needs to go to the bathroom,” she says.
Einstein and Kepler, Copernicus and Newton are quoted and Elena submits to Manel’s charms, his analysis of the state and position in the energy-cycle of their relationship, until she gets offered first a short film, and then a feature.
We hear about “the degradation of good energy into a form of heat” and see how it plays out in relationships — Pablo and Eva tapping intosexual “heat,” even though it is “random, inefficient” and winds up in “entropy …useless, wasted energy.”
In other words, “Maybe we should try a threesome.”
Writer-director Mateo Sanz exhausts us with all these academics, shortchanging the development of on-screen relationships thanks to endless voice-over (and on-camera) analysis.
Maybe on paper, these scientists playing it straight and explaining to the layman this corner of physics while Manel, Elena, Pablo, Eva and Raquel collide, separate, entangle and explode (a nuclear bomb that goes off in the heart, consumes a cafe, then a quarter of the city) was hilarious.
“You’re going a little fast for me. Come up with some laws of physics to explain to me how I am supposed to react.” Elena gets spooked by his second law of thermodynamics theory suggests they’ve reached “peak energy,” and that all that follows will be entropy.
The performances, game as most of them are, cannot overcome this. All this science laid over a romantic comedy is a bit of a bore. There’s too little of Manel’s manic efforts, trying too hard to cook for and keep entertained a girlfriend whose different priorities, narcissism and shallowness mean she is certain to be lured away by another man trapped in her orbit, one as good looking and shallow as she is, one who could help her career.
One winning moment that isn’t followed through rt payoff is Elena, beautiful and thus living a life without consequences, introduces “entropy”into Manel’s ordered, orderly apartment — chaos and disorder ensue.
Another has Pablo dancing on a double decker bus and taking a fall, with graphics illustrating the physics of how various onlookers (his girlfriend, his lover) see his plummet (straight down, or in an arc).
Aside from that, there’s nothing here that takes “Laws” to “peak energy,” even as “Entropy” has prematurely settled in making all that follows just tedious.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, graphic sex, nudity, smoking, profanity
Credits: Written and directed by Mateo Sanz. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:40