- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

“The Other Side of the Bed” is touring America courtesy of Robert Redford’s four-movie Sundance Film Series — an odd choice, given that it was a huge award-collectinghit in Spain.

Far from being a challenging, boundary-pushing, issue-tackling indie flick favored by the sort of elites who find themselves at film festivals, “Bed” is fairly conventional stuff: a frothy sex comedy grafted onto the increasingly hot medium of the pop musical.

Whatever it is, and for whatever reason it was seen fit for a trip across the pond, “Bed” is a delight — funny, sensual, engaging and cohesively written.

It has taken a few early knocks in the New York City and Los Angeles movie press from critics who like their foreign movies all seriously absurd and Frenchified — but I say hooey.

Directed by the Spanish veteran filmmaker Emilio Martinez-Lazaro, this “Bed” is a cozy, inviting place to lay your head for two hours.

It follows the romantic reticulations of a pair of modern Madrid couples who unknowingly swap each other’s lovers.

Javier (Ernesto Alterio) is a middle-class milquetoast lothario, and a cheapskate to boot. We learn early on that he’s entangled with the sultry Paula (Natalia Verbeke), the girlfriend of his working-class best friend and tennis partner, Pedro (Guillermo Toledo).

Depressed, obsessive and constantly gorging on food, Pedro falls into the sympathetic arms of Javier’s live-in girlfriend, Sonia (Paz Vega).

They stab each other in the back, lie through their teeth and concoct flimsy alibis. To distract Pedro’s suspicions, Javier tries overmuch to hook up his friend with someone, anyone, and ultimately settles on a loquacious colleague, Pilar (Maria Esteve), who recites her language as though she’s midway through a learn-Spanish-while-driving CD program.

Javier’s strenuous matchmaking efforts set up a comical dinner scene in which Pedro and Sonia become hip to Javier’s game and send each other their own amorous signals.

All the while, both guys, boorish but lovable in their own ways, deal immaturely with bisexual fantasies and anxieties.

Pedro, for example, spies Sonia slipping into a hotel with Paula, who, Javier thinks, is too touchy-feely with her lesbian alternative-theater-actress friend Lucia — a possibility that’s infuriating and alluring to both men.

It’s overdone and fussy and dangerously close to being unbearably light — until everyone breaks out in song.

The tunes — torch boleros, bad Spanish pop and ska, and second-rate blues — are terrible, the singing is barely adequate, the dancing is lame, and Pedro Berdayes’ choreography is stiff and repetitive.

And it all works beautifully.

“Chicago,” with its truly multitalented cast, this movie is not. Mr. Martinez-Lazaro had the audacity to make a musical that is self-consciously unprofessional.

Although “Bed” tries to make too much hay out of the Freudian notion that everyone, deep down, is latently bisexual and David Serrano’s script (which shakily dispatches secondary characters) is so tidy and precious that one false move could have crashed the whole house of cards, the film is a resounding success.

Its ending is just happy and gauzy enough to be warm and lovable and just cynical enough to stay true to the tone that gave the movie its scandalously amoral edge.

What the essentially farcical “Bed” lacks in “Chicago” or “Moulin Rouge” razzle-dazzle, it makes up in Continental hipness.

***

TITLE: “The Other Side of the Bed,” playing exclusively at Loews Georgetown

RATING: R (Sexuality; nudity; profanity)

CREDITS: Directed by Emilio Martinez-Lazaro. Produced by Tomas Cimadevella and Jose Sainz de Vicuna. Written by David Serrano.

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes, in Spanish with English subtitles.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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