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GAUDI AFTERNOON(director: Susan Seidelman; screenwriter: James Myhre/from a Barbara Wilson novel; cinematographer: Josep M. Civit; editor: Deirdre Slevin; music: Bernardo Bonezzi; cast: Judy Davis (Cassandra Reilly), Marcia Gay Harden (Frankie Stevens), Lili Taylor (Ben Harris), Juliette Lewis (April), Christopher Bowen (Hamilton Kincaid), María Barranco (Carmen), Pep Molina (Paco), Courtney Jines (Delilah); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Andrés Vicente Gómez; First Look Home Entertainment; 2001)
“It’s a frothy romp played for the fun of it, and when the silliness dies down the pic can easily be forgotten.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Susan Seidelman (“Desperately Seeking Susan“) presents a fluffy screwball comedy and private detective mystery story much in the gender-breaking style of a Pedro Almodovar film, but with less force and verve and trust in the characters presented. It is set in Barcelona, Spain, the temporary location where the unattached, cynical and much traveled grumpy American, Cassandra Reilly (Judy Davis), is eking out a living translating a cheesy South American novel into English. The screenplay is by James Myhre, from the novel by Barbara Wilson. The titular (Antonio) Gaudi is the namesake of the nouveau architect who created many fine designs in Barcelona and designed the ritzy plaza marvelously photographed in one of the film’s main scenes, which took place one afternoon.

Cassandra is frustrated because she lives alone and has no man in her life, and has no permanent home because she is still upset over her unhappy childhood in Kalamazoo. On top of that she’s having trouble translating the book and is vexed over the noise in her apartment building that comes from an argument between her friend and landlady Carmen (Barranco) and her hubby Paco, who is an Elvis wannabe. Her horde of screaming children, whom the writer detests, add to her inability to concentrate when trying to work on the novel. Also, she doesn’t have enough dough to pay the back rent and feels in the dumps about the way her unexciting life is going. Arriving straight from San Francisco to spice up her dull life is the mysterious femme fatale Frankie Stevens (Marcia Gay Harden), who claims to be a friend of a friend and who is willing to pay her $3,000 for a couple of days work of playing detective to locate her estranged husband Ben. She hasn’t seen him for two years but needs him to sign papers so as not to lose his inheritance, which pays her bills. The plot is not airtight and far from logical, but that can be excused because it’s a screwball comedy and not a major drama.

The film is loaded with plot twists and ex-expatriates who are eccentric, as the plot line keeps changing in every scene and tries to have some fun with the kooky characters and their foibles. Frankie turns out to be a pre-operative transsexual, and her “husband” Ben turns out to be butch lesbian Lili Taylor, who has traveled to Spain with their precocious daughter Delilah and her live-in kooky ‘new age’ airhead girlfriend Juliette Lewis. They are living in the pad of a bisexual San Francisco magician and wealthy art patron named Hamilton Kincaid (Bowen), who adds mystery to the goings on when further details of the changing plot is revealed.

It’s a frothy romp played for the fun of it, and when the silliness dies down the pic can easily be forgotten. But under Seidelman’s capable direction even though the film meanders from its ‘nothing is as it seems’ theme, it still never gets completely lost. Davis works her acting magic on such pifle and makes her world-weary traveler part have some pathos–though the tidy ending was hard to swallow. Harden also excels as the lady in a man’s body trying to hang on to her wig, her feminine instincts and the child she came to get.

There were a few lines I really got a kick out of, with my fave being the one said by Harden as she observes Barcelona for the first time: “It’s so refreshing, even the children smoke here.” I also liked one of Lewis’ lines: “Fuck the mind not the gender.”

REVIEWED ON 1/30/2003 GRADE: C +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”