Sometimes you can just tell right away.
By the second scene of "Sólo con tu pareja," I knew I was in trouble. Lead actor Daniel Giménez Cacho is jogging in place at the top of the stairs, preparing to strip naked for a mad dash to pick up his newspaper in the downstairs lobby, and I'm thinking "Uh-oh, this is going to be one of those off-beat comedies with a bunch of eccentric characters engaging in random acts of weirdness that everybody but me likes, isn't it?" It is.
Had I done a little reading about the movie before I popped in the DVD, I would have known even sooner. "Sólo con tu pareja" is a sex comedy, a sub-genre which 100+ years of cinema has proven is seldom either sexy or comedic, and it's loaded to the rafters with oh-so-hilarious character names like Mateo Mateos, Silvia Silva, Teresa de Teresa and, of course, our main character Tómas Tómas (Cacho). My sides are splitting already.
Tómas Tómas is a modern-day Don Juan whose inability to resist the ladies is exceeded only by their inability to resist him. The latter must be part of the film's tongue-in-cheek humor considering that mousy little Tómas Tómas has all the sexual appeal of a "Three's Company"-era Don Knotts. Of course, the late, great Mr. Knotts did star as a sexy swinger in "The Love God?" (1969) so maybe I'm just missing something. Tómas Tómas knows no sense of propriety: he even hooks up with his former girlfriend on her wedding day. In an excruciatingly long sequence, he uses an outdoor ledge to scuttle back and forth between two apartments as he pleasures each of his lovely ladies for the night, and even takes time to spy lustily on a third woman who lives in the apartment in-between them.
Despite his womanizing ways, Tómas Tómas thinks of himself as a grade-A nice guy, but not all of his past conquests agree. His fondness for the old "in-out in-out" boomerangs on him when he incurs the wrath of a love-stricken nurse who fakes a medical report which makes him believe he has AIDS. This thunderbolt revelation forces Tómas Tómas to take quick stock of his life, and decide whether he wants to make some meaningful changes or if he doesn't want to face a life in which he no longer free willy whenever he wants to. Whacky high jinks ensue.
"Sólo con tu pareja" was the feature film debut of Alfonso Cuarón, who later went on to direct the superb (and genuinely sexy) "Y tu mamá también" (2001) as well as (not as sexy) "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004), which, despite the protestations of my colleague Eddie Feng, is easily the best film of the Potter franchise. "Sólo con tu pareja," co-written with brother Carlos Cuarón, pokes fun at Mexican popular culture, which doubtless means there are numerous references that simply didn't register with me. For example, the title, which translates as "Only with your partner," alludes to a government AIDS awareness campaign. A dream sequence plays like a Reader's Digest summary of Mexican culture as seen by foreigners: a mariachi singer, a Mexican wrestler, and a Spanish conquistador each put in appearances.
Tough I don't find the film particularly funny, I do think it is exceptionally well-crafted, perhaps too much so. The photography by Emmanuel Lubezki is superb, and even at this early stage the talent he would exhibit later in "Y tu mamá también" and in Terrence Malick's "The New World" (2005) was already on full display. I'm just not sure a raunchy comedy like this movie should be so exquisitely composed; it seems to undermine the down-and-dirty nature of the story. Regardless, Lubezki's camera-work and Cuarón's eye for striking, unusual shots makes this just about the prettiest sex comedy you'll ever see. For a debut feature, it's impressive work.
The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Broken record time: the restored digital transfer is up to the usual stellar Criterion standards. The image quality is crystal clear, and the colors are richly saturated.
The DVD is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo. The audio transfer is clean and clear. Optional English subtitles support the Spanish audio.
The extras include:
"Making ‘Sólo con tu pareja'" (29 min.) This featurette mixes interviews with both Cuaróns as well as lead actor Daniel Giménez Cacho. Alfonso Cuarón discusses his early years in some detail, making this extra more than just a throwaway.
Two Short Films:
"Quartet for the End of Time" (1983, 24 min.) -Alfonso Cuarón's first credited (on IMDB) short film. It's as rough around the edges as you'd expect for a 22 year old's first movie, but it's still interesting, and quite a valuable inclusion on the DVD.
"Wedding Night" (2000, 5 min.) A short-short by Carlos Cuarón involving a hotel room, two hotel employees, and a newlywed couple.
The only other extra on the DVD is a Theatrical Trailer.
The fairly hefty insert booklet (28 pages) includes a lengthy essay by Professor Ryan F. Long (no relation) and a background story for the Tómas Tómas character written by Carlos in order to help Daniel Giménez Cacho familiarize himself with the role.
Has there ever been a "funny name" movie that is actually funny? OK, there's "Dr. Strangelove." Anything else? Maybe it's just me. After all, I find "Catch-22" unbearable, both in book and film form. I try not to guess what audiences will think, but I suspect most viewers will find "Sólo con tu pareja" a whole lot funnier than I did. It's certainly a well-made film, and fans of Alfonso Cuarón's work will want to check it out.