You’re Killing Me, Susana ***1/2

Mexican director Roberto Sneider delivers a love comedy that not only translates well into English but outshines most of its U.S. and British competition.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Fine actors often say that comedy is much more difficult than drama. In “You’re Killing Me, Susana,” the new Mexican love comedy (let’s not propagate the use of the heinous term “romantic comedy”), Gael García Bernal exhibits seemingly effortless, wonderfully effective comedic skills that, when added to his work in dramatic roles, station him high among the best contemporary actors.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” (“Me estás matando, Susana”) gets off to an amusing, if unremarkable, start, with García Bernal’s character Eligio sneaking around and nuzzling noses with women who are not his wife Susana (played by Spaniard Verónica Echegui, also excellent). Eligio is a budding actor and Susana a budding author. Their lives in the arts are sources of temptation, as fellow artists abound who are willing to share “trade secrets.”

One morning, Eligio awakens to find the marital bed empty of Susana. He’s not sure, at first, if she had an early appointment or if he drunkenly missed a message that she was going out of town. In any case, her sudden absence makes Eligio painfully aware that he has been taking his lovely wife for granted. Is it enough, though, to make him change his freewheeling ways?

In the second act, the conflict deepens and the comedic plot suddenly accelerates. It feels like you’re strapped into a rollercoaster going into a 100-foot drop, and Eligio’s lightning sarcasm provides the momentum.

The eminently clever screenplay (by the director Roberto Sneider and co-writer Luis Cámara, adapted from a novel called “Deserted Cities”) is second only to García Bernal’s remarkable performance. Shards of dialogue fly with ease and always satisfy. The supporting players (all talented) seem comfortable with the script and often inspired it. In Eligio’s and Susana’s friends, we’re treated to a bunch of fun characters with plenty of charisma, and the barbs traded among García Bernal’s character and his male friends are especially sharp and hilarious.

Sneider and Cámara also exhibit swagger in their sense of timing. Comedic timing, of course, but also in their confident lingering in Eligio and Susana’s conflicts. They afford us the opportunity to really feel the discomfort of the couple’s universal dilemmas. The filmmakers choose depth over the typical easy-breezy conflicts of so many “rom-coms” from Hollywood and London. Counterintuitively, though, compared to typical, mainstream, formulaic fare, this film feels freer. That’s also a credit to the screenplay and the general tendency in contemporary Mexican cinema toward all things natural, including sex.
Unfortunately, this gem of a movie isn’t getting the care and attention it deserves from its U.S. distributor and marketers. The former, Hello Mexico, inexplicably has no YouTube channel on which to post its trailers. Found elsewhere, the trailer itself is one of the most deceptive in recent memory, making the film out to be a fluffy confection. It’s not. Worst of all, they spoil maybe the biggest laugh by unnecessarily including bits of the scene out of context.

With writing intelligent and bold enough to engage the mind; subtle, humorous jabs at Mexico’s loud neighbor to the north; and, of course, Gael García Bernal’s wildly superb performance, “You’re Killing Me, Susana” will rank near the top of this year’s love comedies. A thoroughly fun movie experience, it also offers much more, because it accepts and celebrates the fact that love, monogamy, lust, dreams—even huevos rancheros, as Eligio points out—are things we will never fully understand.

Andres Solar reviews new fare with an emphasis on art house and indie for Punch Drunk Movies. He feels that Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyer’s Club” [2013], “Wild” [2014]) is highly overrated, and that Texan director David Gordon Green (“Prince Avalanche” [2013], “Joe” [2014]) is highly underrated.

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