Gaudi Afternoon

2001, Movie, R, 88 mins


An Almodovar-lite tale of modern misunderstandings and offbeat family values, based on a larky mystery novel by Barbara Wilson and directed by Susan Seidelman, who seems to have lost any feel she ever had for tone and performance. The offbeat cast and gorgeous Barcelona locations can't quite make up for the thinness of the mystery and forced quirkiness of the characters and their tangled relationships. Rootless American Cassandra Reilly (Judy Davis) finances her globe-trotting ways translating books, and is hard at work on a particularly tacky magic-realist novel when she gets a visit from mysterious femme fatale Frankie Stevens (Marcia Gay Harden). Frankie says she needs the services of a translator for a few days, though she actually needs a detective: She's looking for her missing husband, Ben, who's supposedly hiding out in Barcelona. Frankie's story sounds like a crock, so Cassandra tries to blow her off. But Frankie's persistent and dangles a $3000 fee Cassandra could really use, so she agrees to make some phone calls and sit outside a swanky landmark building designed by visionary Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi and take pictures of everyone who emerges. A few loopy plot turns later, Cassandra realizes she's not tangled up in a marital spat involving allowances, financially controlling parents and legal papers that must be signed. She's in the middle of an international custody battle involving the transsexual Frankie; Frankie's butch wife, Ben (Lily Taylor); Ben's new girlfriend, April (Juliette Lewis); Frankie and Ben's six-year-old daughter, Delilah (Courtney Jines); and April's old friend Hamilton (Christopher Bowen), in whose apartment the family circus has been pitched. Wacky complications ensue... at least that seems to be the intent. In fact, there's something dispiritingly half-hearted about the "outrageous" situations in which the surprisingly uptight Cassandra — she's been around the world a few times, after all — finds herself, and the only way to keep the under-plotted story going is for everyone to act like an idiot. The film's assets include Harden, who has a high old time slinking around as the smoky voiced Frankie, and the Gaudi locations — the sinuous Parque Guell is a natural-born star. Taylor and Lewis's broad characterizations veer regularly into coarseness, while Davis, whose performances usually have the focus and intensity of a surgical strike, doesn't seem to have a handle on Cassandra. In a comedy of gender confusion, it helps to have a clear idea where everyone stands before they start getting confused. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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