VIFF Review: Penelope Cruz can’t save ‘The Queen of Spain’

I really like movies about making movies. I think they’re a fun way to explore and poke fun at the film making business. I also like period set comedies, in particular those set in the late 40s and 50s. I like the design sensibilities and I feel like the feel good image of that era that still lingers today is one ripe for subversion. Also also, I really like Penelope Cruz. I think she’s a dynamic and interesting screen presence.

The Queen of Spain then is a movie that should be right up my alley: it’s a period set comedy about making a movie starring Penelope Cruz. Turns out it’s not though.

The story concerns Spanish movie star Macarena Granada (Cruz) who has returned to Spain from Hollywood to shoot a picture about Queen Isabella of Spain. The invite to shoot this picture comes from Spanish dictator Franco himself and she arrives with an entourage that includes an aged director (Clive Revill), a not-that-suave Movie Star (Cary Elwes), a blacklisted screenwriter (Mandy Patinkin), and a local crew of wacky side characters including Jorge Sanz as a formerly famous Spanish movie star, Javier Camera as a gay assistant director, and… look, I could go on but suffice to say the supporting cast is a wacky crew of stereotypes and not in the good way.

Eventually they all get mixed up in a pot to break an ex-lover of Macarena’s out of prison, and hilarity ensues. Or at least it should, but it doesn’t. Here’s the thing: this movie can’t quite seem to decide what kind of movie it wants to be. About two-thirds of it is a slapstick romp both homaging and parodying the golden age of filmmaking, and the other third is a serious prison break movie with commentary on Franco’s regime. All of this should be hilarious but the slapstick part goes too far into weird, stereotyping territory and the prison break is played entirely too straight.

There are a few laugh out loud moments in the movie but they are few and far between. Worse, there are a few scenes that play for laughs that are basically “look at this gay character doing a stereotypical gay thing! Hilarious!”. Even worse yet, there is another gay character who is played as a straight up sexual predator and that whole thing is played for laughs, too.

Penelope Cruz is great in this too. She’s a great actress and I think she’s even better in Spanish than English, and here she’s given the full 50s glam treatment to boot. You really believe she could have been a Hollywood star in the 50s, right down to the way she speaks to the press.

It’s just too bad her performance is in such a bad movie.