“Thi Mai (Rumbo a Vietnam)” is another bubble-gum colored Spanish travelogue comedy, this one set mostly in Vietnam.
It sets us up for “heartwarming,” for culture clash/language barrier gags, for madcap misadventures and a little romance — some straight, some gay.
Almodóvar changed Spain, or at least Spanish rom-coms. Every Netflix comedy is gay-friendly proof.
Virtually nothing promised by this one comes off, making for an irritating movie stuffed with trite scenes and insurmountable obstacles, all of which are neatly surmounted by the finale.
It’s damned irritating is what it is.
It begins with a bad day — Elvira (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), a banker of a certain age, is “pre-retired” by her ageist boss.
She’s just gathering her girls, harried, unworldly housewife Rosa (Adriana Ozores) and testy hardware store co-owner Carmen (Carmen Machi) for a “Tonight, we drink” vent-fest, when tragic news is added to the menu.
Carmen’s daughter dies in a car wreck. Months later, her friends cannot pull her out of her funk, she and her husband can’t bear to even reopen the store. And then Pilar calls. That adoption of a Vietnamese orphan that daughter Maria was setting up?
Carmen’s impulse is to race to Vietnam and claim this little piece of her daughter as her own. No, that is NOT how it works. And yes, the idea is not unlike getting a new puppy after your dog dies.
A repellent comparison, which anybody watching this cannot help but make.
There’s nothing for it but for Elvira to join her in this quixotic quest, and for Rosa to escape her needy/control-freak husband and their tuned-out teens to do the same.
Upon arrival, they meet Andres (Dani Rovira), a gay man ready to start his life in Vietnam with his in-country lover Jose. Andres speaks enough Vietnamese to get the ladies out of their first jam. He’s helpful.
Then they meet Dan (Eric Nguyen), guide and adoption agency intermediary. Dan becomes Obstacle One against acquiring Thi Mai,” the little girl Maria was to adopt.
Because…paperwork, legalities, no standing and “I’m very sorry.”
The film descends into a series of miscommunications, “sneak arounds” to try and get to someone over Dan’s head, to pass on a doll to the child, to make this very difficult thing happen in an instant because that’s what Carmen wants more than anything else in the world.
The ladies wind up in the casino, in assorted wrong places (a rice paddy), and the language barrier scenes, at least, are handled with a deft touch. Don’t translate what the Vietnamese are saying, have the ladies (speaking Spanish, or Spanglish) struggle to mime out their meaning as whatever Vietnamese person they’re dealing with tries to understand and chatter back.
“How do you say, ‘Are you sure this is chicken?'”
Rosa is worried sick they’re going to feed her cooked dog.
One other scene that comes off is Andres’ botched reunion with Jose, a comical debacle parked in the middle of Halong Bay, with its towering, forested islands as a backdrop.
The rest? Merely irritating nonsense. The ladies aren’t funny enough to wring laughs out of the script, and the gay jokes are both out-of-date and too few in number to compensate.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, sexuality, smoking, drinking
Cast:Carmen Machi, Adriana Ozores, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Dani Rovira and Eric Nguyen
Credits: Directed by Patricia Ferreira, script by Marta Sánchez. A Netflix Original.
Running time: 1:39