GAUDI AFTERNOON, a 2001 comedy-mystery-drama-travelogue-sexual statement-mashup, was shown in a smattering of film festivals, mostly LGBTish-oriented, then, scathing reviews in the rear-view mirror, vanished down the silly-wabbit hole with a gross of exactly $65,115—worldwide. It works, to a point, thanks to two of the cast members and the colorful setting, then chases its tail into noisy desperation.
“It’s so refreshing, even the children smoke here.”
Grumpy & frazzled gadabout ‘Cassandra’ (Judy Davis), working as a literary translator in Barcelona, is lured, mostly by money, partly by curiosity, into a bit of sleuthing for amusingly affected American tourist ‘Frankie’ (Marcia Gay Harden), who says she wants to locate her missing husband. The comic angle is established early, then the mystery portion goes from Where to Who to Who-is-What-exactly, when we find that Frankie is actually the transsexual father of a missing child (Courtney Jines), who is now living with her natural mother ‘Ben’ (Lili Taylor), a lesbian, who, aside from being butch and volatile, is engaged in a menage a trois with her bisexual lover (Christopher Bowen) and their lover, a gibbering New Age dip (Juliette Lewis). Cassandra’s somewhat sensible Spanish neighbor & landlady (María Barranco) offers extra spice. *
Directed by Susan Seidleman, scripted by James Myhre, taken from the award-winning 1990 novel by Barbara Wilson, the first in her ‘Cassandra Reilly’ series, the 97-minute gender-bender romp alternates between sly (which works) and frantic (which doesn’t), with the hope that the scenic values of Barcelona (including plenty of the famed Gaudi architecture) take up the slack, the twisty plot patrolled by a droll music score from Bernardo Bonezzi.
It begins well, then moves in fits and starts, eventually sputtering into an evaporation of interest in the unsympathetic characters and their unlikable actions, at least as directed and played here—probably not the case with the book (? but–will I ever read it?). Davis hits every cynical note right, and Harden camps it up nicely. Barcelona looks like Barcelona, so that’s a win, too. But the other characters, as scripted, directed & acted, are obnoxious and off-putting. Lewis does do justice to her idiot New Age poseur, but how enjoyable it is a matter of how much you like the actress. This is the only time I can recall seeing Lili Taylor when I didn’t like watching her: the constantly erupting Ben is about as appealing as she would be in real life. If you’re going to make a movie–farce or not–that promotes understanding and accepting alternate ways of expressing shared humanity through the lens of sexual choices, it might help if you thought you could stand to be around the people being portrayed.
* Keen to see what ‘Cassandra Reilly’—lesbian translator, globetrotter, and amateur sleuth—does for a living & fun, the other books in Barbara Wilson’s series are “Case of the Orphaned Bassoonists”, “Death of a Much-Travelled Woman”, “Sisters of the Road“, and “Trouble In Transylvania“. Wilson also writes under the name Barbara Sjoholm.