Inarritu’s 21 Grams and Babel were way too long. His latest film, Biutiful, is also too long, but at least it only follows one character so it’s easier to digest. I wouldn’t say that it’s as good as Babel, it’s just a little easier to follow. There’s still way too much going on, though, and it’s also way too depressing for its own good. Can Inarritu make anything other than melodramatic, existential think-pieces? After watching his last three pictures, I’m starting to think he can’t.
I’m not really sure if the title of this movie is meant to be ironic or not, as I didn’t see anything all that beautiful about it. Instead, I saw a lot of moping around and death. Is the single moment in the film where the family smiles at the dinner table while eating melted ice cream supposed to be beautiful? Or how about the time Javier Bardem hugs his mullet-topped son and kisses him on the forehead? I don’t know, maybe I’m just not built for these art house films. The one thing I do know, though, is that the acting throughout is impeccable. From Javier Bardem’s Oscar-nominated turn as a dying dad trying to make things right, to his bipolar wife, played by the strangely beautiful Maricel Alvarez, everybody in this film does a great job of portraying their characters. If only the movie could be as good as the actors then I think we’d have a modern-day masterpiece on our hands.
The story follows Uxbal (Bardem), a father of two who’s been diagnosed with cancer. He also works in the underbelly of the city, co-running a group of Africans and Asians in counterfeit street-sale rings. He also has a bipolar ex-wife who he’s still in love with and trying to help. Oh, and he can also talk to the dead. So yeah, there are way too many plots going on here. What makes matters worse is that each story on its own could make for a beautiful and moving picture, but Inarritu, in what seems to be his MO these days, overstuffs the story. It’s like watching all the cast members of Babel fit into Javier Bardem’s shoes. Surprisingly, he can actually pull it off, but the film doesn’t seem worthy of his talents. It doesn’t seem worthy of any of the actors' talents, for that matter, because as a cohesive and dramatic story, it falls on its face.
That’s not to say that it’s bad. In fact, I’d say that for a good portion of the first half, I loved it. I could truly feel the remorse in Uxbal’s eyes when he received the news from the doctor that he was going to die. And I grieved right along with him when thinking about everything that he still had to accomplish before he died, like providing a better life for his children than the one that his father left him. That part of the movie, I get. But the rest of it is just too damn much. It becomes a slog after awhile, and it’s too artsy for its own worth. For example, when I first started reading about the movie last year, I was interested to hear that there was a sort of Ghost Whisperer aspect to it where Uxbal could communicate with the dead. But when placed in the actual film itself, it just doesn’t fit. Or maybe it fits too well. I don’t know. The film is certainly a slow meditation, but with so much going on, it’s just hard to watch it with one specific narrative thread in mind. Again, I really want to know what the hell is supposed to be so beautiful in this movie, and why the picture is called that. Did I miss something here? I don’t think so, but with a story that doesn’t successfully bring itself together, it’s a little hard to say. Broken up for its parts, it’s an excellent film, but as a whole, it’s a long and drawn-out mess. Maybe you’ll like it, or maybe you’ll feel the same way I did, but one thing’s for certain. If you like watching great acting, then it’s going to be hard to find a better film than this. Few actors can play broken, dragging-their-feet men like Javier Bardem. So watch it for the acting. Just don’t expect the story to be as good.
Biutiful is already too long, so thankfully, there’s no commentary on this disc. If you’re a fan of the film, though, you might miss that. So I’m telling you now, if you’re hoping for commentary, there isn’t any. Instead, we get “Behind Biutiful: Director’s Flip Notes.” Much like the film itself, it’s all too self-absorbed, and I’m pretty sure I like Inarritu even less now. He speaks in a poetic, the-world-is-filled-with-wonders and everything-is-important kind of way, and it’s annoying. No wonder his films are so maudlin.
“Beautiful Crew” is actually the only upbeat piece on the disc. It features pictures of everybody from the production team to the film’s caterers while catchy Spanish music plays in the background. I actually watched it twice it was spliced together so well. I seriously think it’s the best thing on the entire disc. It actually made me smile. I wish some of that positive energy could show up in the actual movie. There’s also the theatrical trailer on the disc and “Interviews with Cast and Crew.” This last feature again includes a few of the dour faces in the movie just talking about their roles, and it really makes you want to slit your wrists. Overall, the special features aren’t going to sway you to appreciate the film more. But if you already appreciate it, I guess they’re okay. They’re nothing worth buying the movie over, though.