written by: Luis Cámara and Roberto Sneider; based on the book by José Agustín
produced by: Roberto Sneider
directed by: Roberto Sneider
rating: Unrated (language, sex, and nudity, equivalent to R-rating)
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: February 17, 2017
"Ask me again."
Perhaps it's because he made two of his first films with future Oscar winners Alejandro G. Iñárritu ("Amores Perros") and Alfonso Cuarón ("Y Tu Mamá También"), but I've always viewed Gael García Bernal as something of a risk taker. Whether it's "The Science of Sleep," "The Motorcycle Diaries," or "The Loneliest Planet," Bernal differentiated himself from his contemporaries by his willingness to go places others would not. He's also proven himself incredibly adept at comedy, a skill he puts to brilliant use in the cutting new Mexican comedy "You're Killing Me Susana."
Bernal stars as Eligio, a philandering alcoholic actor stuck working in telenovelas partially because he lacks ambition and also because he's not a very good actor—at least not from what we see on screen. His wife Susana (Veronicá Echegui) is a budding author who, seemingly fed up with her husband's behavior, up and disappears one day. Eligio's major problem, however, is that she disappeared with most of her belongings which, much to his dismay, does not qualify her as a missing person.
Eligio discovers that she has gone to a college in Iowa to participate in a writer's workshop, and sets out to track her down and win her back. What follows is a portrait of a relationship that we don't often see on screen, especially in comedies. We quickly discover that Eligio and Susana's relationship isn't overly co-dependent so much as it is an exercise in how manipulative and destructive either one of them can be to the other at any given time.
Because the film spends its first thirty or so minutes thoroughly establishing Eligio as something of a dolt and a jerk, it's easy for the audience to immediately empathize with Susana when he shows up in America to throw a wrench into her plans. That empathy soon erodes, however, as the audience discovers that Eligio's behavior may be nothing more than a byproduct of Susana endlessly exploiting him emotionally. While his rakish behavior and alcoholism make him something of a boor, her passive aggressive ploys to win back his affection are equally distressing.
It's a credit to both the script and the lead actors that these characters are simultaneously repellant and endearing. Eligio's constant refusal to take responsibility for his terrible actions might have been repulsive were he not played by someone as instantly likable as Bernal. The actor shines here in what could have easily been a one note performance, giving the character far more pathos than he deserves. He's matched every step of the way by Echegui, whose stoic and tormented façade beautifully masks a woman with downright sociopathic tendencies. It's a credit to both actors that they allow us to invest our emotions in such despicable people.
If you're sick and tired of the same old thing from romantic comedies, "You're Killing Me Susana" is the perfect antidote. I don't imagine that it will play as well with audience members unwilling to spend time in the company of wholly unlikable people, but those willing to take a risk will find themselves handsomely rewarded. It's a shame that more films don't play with formula and convention in this way, because it can lead to some really interesting things. It's nice to know that some artists are willing to take us outside our comfort zone because they love being outside of theirs.