movie review

Perfect Strangers Is a Comedy About Cell Phone Secrets That Mostly Works

Photo: Pantelion Films

Perfect Strangers — a.k.a. Perfectos desconocidos — is a Mexican remake of a 2017 Spanish remake of a 2016 Italian comedy that might also have a 2018 South Korean counterpart (Intimate Strangers), although I have not confirmed the latter. It sounds the same, though. Maybe the Spanish and Mexican versions were made simultaneously and the Korean version just, you know, happened. The point is that the Italian original has become a cottage industry (I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a U.S. remake in the works), and when you see the Mexican version, you’ll know why. It’s very entertaining in a middlebrow Broadway comedy kind of way.

The theme is secrets and how everyone’s got ’em. At a dinner party for old friends (some with new spouses or lovers), the guests decide on a very dumb whim to place their cell phones in the center of the table and share every text or call. This creates moments that are awwwwwk-ward, given all the affairs, lies (white, black, and crimson), and other buried traumas. Some of the revelations are funny, some tragic, almost all momentous. Adding a spooky note is a lunar eclipse, which the guests periodically head out to the balcony to observe and/or photograph with phones that continue to chirp with new revelations. In the light of this mystical moon, all is revealed.

Directed by Manolo Caro, the Mexican Perfect Strangers was a big hit in its home country and opens in the U.S. on January 11. (It can also be streamed.) It begins broadly. Ernesto (Miguel Rodarte) sits on the john texting with his lover while his dipso wife, Flora (Mariana Treviño), takes a surreptitious swig of booze. Across town, hunky Mario (Manuel García-Rulfo) humps his dishy new wife, Ana (Ana Claudia Talancón), on a counter, during which they talk about the prospect of kids. The dinner party hosts, Eva (Cecilia Suárez), a shrink, and her husband, Alonso (Bruno Bichir), a middlingly successful doctor who does boob jobs, tussle with their 17-year-old daughter, Nina (Camila Valero), in whose purse Eva found condoms. Beefy Pepe (Franky Martin) is supposed to come to dinner with the girlfriend whom no one has met, but she has a cold. Supposedly. You can’t count on anything anyone says and Pepe is less than convincing.

Caro’s camera roams the space during the breezily sexist chatter. “Girls in red are great in bed.” “Whenever [my wife] starts talking I lower the volume and mute her.” “Men are all the same.” Then: “Childless couples are happier.” “Because divorce is easier.” “No, having kids breathes new life into you.” When the phones go on the table, the camera begins to circle. Someone gets a sext. Someone turns out to be getting a boob job. Someone is wearing no panties at the direction of a Facebook friend — a relationship that might or might not be platonic. Conspiracies, illicit pregnancies, hidden sexual preferences — all are on the table, literally. Plus, a pair of characters swap phones with predictably catastrophic results.

I shouldn’t say much more except that, given the thinness of the characters, the farcical revelations — with their attendant puking and pounding on bathroom doors — work better than the grimly sincere ones. But only one bit goes clunk — the rest is deftly staged and acted. The cast could not be livelier, though the women get the juicier parts, having less to hide, more to react to. Treviño is a superb sloppy drunk, while Talancón finds deeper and deeper levels of horror to register on her clear, ingenue face. The film is grounded by Cecilia Suárez’s severe deadpan. As the host as well as a therapist, her Eva has an investment in keeping the party together. But there’s only so much one can do.

Toward the end, Perfect Strangers evokes J.B. Priestley’s Dangerous Corner, a twist that’s poorly set up but certainly puts a button on the film. And Priestley’s play premiered in 1932, before cell phones made our dangerous corners that much closer. Hands up if you don’t know someone whose relationship ended because of a wayward text. Now use that hand to delete everything on your phone and computer.

Perfect Strangers: A Well-made Comedy About Cell Phones