In a previous life in newspapering, I’d often profile stand-up comics, sometimes hanging out with them between sets at a local club.
They’d give ruthless, off-the-record play-by-play commentary on the other comics as they went through their routines. And when things went bad, these comics, to a one, would say — “Oooo, dying DYING, ‘d–k joke! D–k JOKE!'”
It was and remains comedy’s lowest common denominator, a reference that never fails to land as a zinger, drawling belly-laughs from the great unwashed.
There are two laugh-out-loud moments in the tame Spanish comedy “A pesar de todo,” which translates as “Despite Everything.”
Both involve a libidinous artist, played by Carlos Bardem, Javier Bardem’s older brother. And both are sight gags of the male member, something a painter who specializes in nudes works into any self-portrait he paints, because he can’t add it to the many, many naked women he’s painted over the decades.
Si, the character Pablo lands laughs with, as the Spaniards say, a “broma de la polla.”
“Despite Everything,” in Spanish with English subtitles, is about four sisters who are sent on “a scavenger hunt” for their biological father after their mother’s death.
Mom, played by Marisa Parades, an alumna of several Pedro Almodódar, tells her girls her big secret in one of those video farewells that serve as “wills” only in the movies.
“Pedro is not your biological father.”
Their dad (Juan Diego) has a few screws loose, something exacerbated by the funeral. He cannot know. But they cannot collect their inheritance from mom until they “find out who your father is yourselves.”
She gives them names, via her lawyer, and the four pile into a car — reluctantly hurled together on this quest none of them wants to undertake.
They’re all stylish, striking, liberated Spanish women, and this is “a bad joke” to each and every sister.
Sara (Blanca Suárez) is a TV news magazine editor living in New York, who left behind Dad’s favorite TV actor (Maxi Iglesias), also Dad’s favorite among her old boyfriends when she moved away.
But “Dad” isn’t her real father, and she’s not interested in renewing the relationship with Alejandro, the star of TV’s My Life Without You,” so she’s got time to interrogate potential biological fathers.
Lucia (Macarena García) is the youngest, vivacious and so sexy that she can only get her fill in threesomes.
Sofia (Amaia Salamanca) is a lip-pierced lesbian artist who’s not told the others about her girlfriend of one year. lejandro’s show “My Life Without You”
And Claudia (Belén Cuesta) hasn’t revealed that her husband left her months ago, and that she’s medicated to the gills as a coping mechanism.
Argentine co-writer/director Gabriela Tagliavini uses a few actresses from Almodóvar’s Madrid repertory company, but a filmmaker whose biggest hit was “Cómo cortar a tu patán” (“How to Break Up With Your Douchebag”) isn’t operating on the same level as Mr. “Women in the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”
The lack of subtlety isn’t an issue, but if you can’t wring laughs out of prospective papas who include a blind priest, maybe it is.
Tagliavani stages car-ride sing-alongs, which follow the shared “peace pop” (marijuana) and accompany the sibling rivalry — Which sister has it worst? — banter of the drives.
The sister/actresses each have a little to play with, but can’t make sangria out of a script that left out the wine.
Bardem is the first prospective dad they visit and earns the most promising character and best lines — “I don’t believe in science,” “Death and I don’t get along” and “Your mother was a being of light.”
“Oh, Carmen! She makes me laugh from the afterlife!”
But even his scenes aren’t hilarious, save for the giggling schoolboy penis jokes I mentioned earlier. And nothing that follows has even that much life.
Tagliavini scored some of the sexiest sirens of Spanish language cinema for “Despite Everything,” but all she’s done for them is make them “Women on the Verge of Being in a Funnier Movie.”
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, sex, painted nudes, pot use and profanity
Cast: Blanca Suárez, Macarena García, Amaia Salamanca, Belén Cuesta, Maxi Iglesias, Carlos Bardem
Credits: Directed by Gabriela Tagliavini, script by Eugene B. Rhee, Helena Rhee, Gabriela Tagliavini A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:18