Movie Review: “Perfectos Desconocidos” (Perfect Strangers)

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“Perfect Strangers,” or “Perfectos Desconocidos,” is a Mexican remake of an Italian dinner party gone wrong dramedy of the same title.

There was also a 2017 Argentine version of this chatty, lightly corrosive riff on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” with a cell phone era twist. Seven old friends, enjoying wine and good company, take a dare on how many of each other’s “secrets” they know, and park their cell phones in the middle of the dinner table. Every call, text message or email they must share with the entire party.

“What kind of game is this?” the host, Antonio (Bruno Bichir of “Sicario II”) pleads.

“A FUN one!” his brittle wife Eva (Cecilia Suárez of “The Air I Breathe”) snaps. “Like Russian Roulette!”

Antonio is doing the cooking for this holiday season lunar eclipse get together. Eva’s a judgmental psychotherapist whose insults are borne by their friends. Because as the wags always say, “A friend is someone who sees through you and still enjoys the show.”

Eva is at war with their 16 year-old, sexually curious daughter Nina, who always turns to Dad when the chips are down.

Flora and Ernesto (Mariana Treviño and Miguel Rodarte) are on even frostier terms. He’s secretly texting his paramour in the toilet, and not so secretly forgetting to wash his hands afterwards. She drinks on the sly, and gets a text message that has her removing her panties and leaving them at home.

Mario and Ana (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Ana Claudia Talancón) are newlyweds who cannot keep their hands, tongues and other appendages off one another.

And they all arrive before Pepe (Franky Martin), gossiping shamelessly about who he’ll bring to the party. He’s a soccer coach with a Mini Cooper and a “wealthy hobo” fashion sense.

Every character is introduced to the soapy thrum of a melodramatic string section. Something dark is coming, or perhaps something dark and funny.

The banter, leaning entirely on the 2016 Italian film’s original script, is lively, sexy and tetchy. Cracks about Pepe’s ex, nicknamed “Shrillary,” rhymes (in Spanish, with English subtitles) relating how women must dress for parties — “Girls in red are great in bed, Girls in blue…” “Don’t get DISGUSTING!” — how men are like PCs (“unreliable,” cheap, etc.) and women are “Macs — fast, intelligent, elegant,” and “they cost a fortune and are only compatible among themselves” give “Perfect” a bit of a bounce to it.

Then the phones come out, the “death of privacy” is bemoaned and Eva offers how a phone is now “the black box of our lives. It’s all on there…Many couples would IMPLODE” if they swapped theirs.

Thus the game the shrewish shrink proposes. And as the wine flows and the lasagna is served, let that game begin. Pranks ensue, terrible misunderstandings, blame cast about.

“Maybe it was AUTO-correct!”

As unexpected quotes from hotels and nursing homes roll in, jewelry purchases are revealed (a trite convention of cheating movies), a character tries to avoid having his paramour’s nightly naughty pic exposed and job hunts or expanding an Uber franchise is broadcast via speaker phone, dinner guests try to get their stories straight, to explain away strangers whom they’ve given the license to speak on intimate terms with them.

The moon turns blood red and people get their backs up, even the sober ones.

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It’s a very theatrical set-up, which is why it’s a pity Edward Albee didn’t live long enough to re-think “Virginia Woolf” with a cell-phone gimmick to it. The conversations range from teasing and pleading to corrosive accusations and drunken lies covering up earlier lives.

The merits of psychotherapy are hashed out — “Why tell a stranger your problems? That’s what friends are for!” All as we’re watching intimate friends who ALL have secrets face having those bared for the party.

There are funny moments, mostly verbal (tricky if you don’t speak Spanish, as the film has white subtitles which wash out on lots of white backdrops).  There are bitter turns.

And we’re treated to a genuinely touching, absurdly-intimate parent-child conversation relished by all over the speaker phone, a heroic moment of sanity swamped in a sea of cheating, double-dealing and “big” revelations.

It’s more tame than daring, at least that’s how “Perfect Strangers” plays north of the border. And the resolution is abrupt and unsatisfying.

But the actors are uniformly superb, with Suárez and Bichir standing out. The sophistication of the characters, the mania for keeping secrets that maybe aren’t worth the effort and the sharp and sharply funny words (and sharp elbows) explain why these “Perfectos Desconocidos” stay connected and stay friends through all the loss of privacy and exposure that letting others study their “black boxes” allows.

They still enjoy the show.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, alcohol abuse, sexual conversations, mild violence

Cast: Cecilia Suárez, Bruno Bichir, Ana Claudia Talancón, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Franky Martín, Mariana Treviño

Credits: Manolo Caro, script by  Filippo Bologna and Paolo Costella, based on their Italian film, “Perfect Strangers.”   A Pantelion release.

Running time: 1:44

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