You’re Killing Me Susana [Me estás matando Susana]

(Mexico 2016)

When I was a kid, Cedar Point would start hyping its newest ride, usually but not always a roller coaster, just as winter gave over to spring. In June, we’d finally get to the park and wait in line for two hours to experience it. Some years, the ride didn’t live up to its promise; I felt I had been duped. I recently felt that same disappointment again leaving the theater after a sold out screening of Roberto Sneider’s edgy new romantic comedy You’re Killing Me Susana.

Self-absorbed lout Eligio (Gael García Bernal) is a minor soap opera actor who believes in monogamy—for his wife, Susana (Verónica Echegui), not him. He stays out drinking, cheats on her, and sometimes drags his thespian friends over to their apartment to party into the wee hours—after Susana’s gone to bed. The look on her face and the way she pushes him off of her when he stumbles into bed and nuzzles her to cuddle is sublimely bitchy—and funny.

Eligio is the only one who’s confused when Susana leaves him. He schleps from Mexico City to Iowa to track her down, enduring American customs agents and evading campus police. He finds her enrolled in a writing program for foreign students at an unnamed university (University of Iowa, perhaps?). She’s also running around with a silent, brooding, and well-endowed Polish poet (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson). Without a plan or a place to stay, Eligio moves into Susana’s dorm—ostensibly to work out their issues.

Adapted by Sneider and Luis Cámara from José Agustín’s novel, You’re Killing Me Susana depicts a dysfunctional relationship that both participants take a lax approach to maintaining. I don’t mind dislikable characters, but I had some difficulty connecting with these ones. They seem to recognize a problem, but it doesn’t come off as dire. Some of what happens between them is confusing, and as a result the message gets lost. Somewhere in here, I suspect, are statements about machismo, maturity, fidelity, how men and women view sex, and what they want out of life.

The previews suggested something riotously fun and sexy, and I really like Bernal. You’re Killing Me Susana exudes that distinct cuteness with a dark undertone you see a lot in Mexican films. Overall, though, this is just okay. It has some funny moments—most of them in the trailer—but the execution is shallow, simplistic, and forgettable. Too bad, because this could have been a really powerful and interesting film.

With Ashley Grace, Andrés Almeida, Jadyn Wong, Adam Hurtig, Barbara Garrick, Ilse Salas

Production: Cuévano Films, La Banda Films

Distribution: Hola Mexico Distribution

100 minutes
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C-

The Noble Family [We Are the Nobles] [Nosotros los Nobles]

(Mexico 2013)

I don’t get many opportunities to see Mexican films, which is strange considering the huge Mexican population in Chicago. I tend to like the ones I see, though—a lot. Generally speaking, the storytelling in Mexican films often has a distinct breeziness to it, and the humor a wry and dark undertone with some weight. It’s a different experience than, say, a Pedro Almodóvar film.

The Noble Family is no exception. It’s a cute riches-to-rags story about appreciating the value of money and all that goes with it. Germán Noble (Gonzalo Vega) is a wealthy businessman who built a financial empire. His wife died years ago—“May God keep her close to Him”—leaving Germán to raise his three children on his own with the help of a housekeeper (Mary Paz Mata). He’s taken aback when he notices how they live their lives: his dumb elder son, Javi (Luis Gerardo Méndez), blows money on lame ideas for businesses and on partying; his spoiled daughter, Bárbara (Karla Souza), demands everyone jump when she says so, including her father when she reveals her intention to marry a shady gold digger (Carlos Gascón); and his younger son, hipster Charlie (Juan Pablo Gil), just got expelled from university after he was caught having sex with a teacher in her office. None of them are good at anything—or particularly gracious.

Germán suffers a minor heart attack when he sees how much money his kids are spending. He devises a plan to teach them a lesson—he orchestrates a takedown of his empire, which he claims is due to union troubles and an embezzling business partner (Mario Haddad). The Nobles flee to a ghetto in Mexico City to hide out in a run-down house that Germán’s father owned. For the first time, the kids have to support themselves—which means they have to get jobs. Unbeknownst to him, a lesson awaits Germán as well.

Directed by Gary Alazraki, The Noble Family is a fun satire of rich kids. It’s not mean-spirited, but it makes some serious points about social class, racism, and working hard. The characters are great—all three kids are convincing as fish out of water, especially snippy Bárbara and her constant griping, disdainfully comparing her surroundings to Venezuela, Cuba, even Thailand. Lucho (Ianis Guerrero) is a relatable catalyst, getting the kids jobs and showing them how to take care of business. A subtle subplot involving a cat plays into the moral of the story—no doubt because one of the film’s backers is Whiskas cat food. Weird.

The second highest grossing film in Mexican history (, The Noble Family is a well-done straightforward comedy. It’s a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed it. It’s a lot of fun.

108 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Chicago Cultural Center) B

Chicago International Film Festival

Cartel Land

(USA 2015)

This one threw me for a loop. I expected an expose on the Mexican cartels, but that was just the backdrop. What Cartel Land is really about is the self-proclaimed “vigilantes” fighting the cartels on both sides of the border: Jose “El Doctor” Mireles, a Mexican shit-town physician running Las Autodefensas, and Tim “Nailer” Foley, a veteran running Arizona Border Recon. Boasting some intense on-the-ground footage, it isn’t quite clear who the bad guys are by the end. Total mindfuck.

(Music Box) B-

Happy Times [Tiempos felices]

(Mexico 2014)

Breaking up is hard to do, but for thirty-something cartoonist Max Quintana (Luis Arreita) it’s impossible: he fails every time he tries to dump his domineering girlfriend, Monica (Cassandra Ciangherotti). When she misreads his intentions as a marriage proposal, he “hires” an agency to do his dirty work for him. What did he get himself into?

Wry, cynical, and weird, I really liked Happy Times. It was paced using a similar plot device that the Coen brothers use, which worked really well keeping the story moving along in an interesting way. This was fun to watch—and the ending is not happy. Bonus!

(St. Anthony Main) B+

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival