Fernando Trueba’s latest is a train wreck of a misfire

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Queen of Spain
Opens Friday 1

Roxy Film Theatre
2 out of 5

For a brief period in the 90s, Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba became the face of the Iberian peninsula’s cinema (this was during Almodóvar’s transition from irreverent to overly sentimental). A couple of back-to-back art-house hits starring Penélope Cruz — Belle Epoque and The Girl of Your Dreams — got him the title of Spain’s Billy Wilder.

Since then, it has been downhill for Trueba. Sure, his foray in animation Chico & Rita (2010) got him an Oscar nomination, but interest in his movies dried up and the glowing reviews that were once a given became few and far between.

Now comes The Queen of Spain, an ill-conceived sequel to The Girl of Your Dreams that doubles down on nostalgia: for Spain’s film industry in the ’50s, and the time two decades ago when picaresque comedies with political undertones were all the rage (among film critics).

While The Girl of Your Dreams took place just before World War II, when Franco and Hitler flirted with an alliance, The Queen of Spain finds El Generalísimo firmly in power. Promising starlet Macarena Granada (Penélope Cruz) has become a big draw stateside, and is coerced to star in a Queen Isabella biopic financed by the fascist regime. The opportunity is an excuse for Macarena to reunite with the gang and the director who sacrificed his freedom so she could escape the Nazis.

(You really should rent The Girl of Your Dreams. It’s so much better.)

The catching-up section of the film is seriously miscalculated (it has been 20 years since the original came out, which was little seen outside Spain in the first place), but not nearly as problematic as the plot — a hasty rehash of the caper that anchored The Girl of Your Dreams. The considerable supporting cast is a one-note bunch, despite Spanish A-listers and Mandy Patinkin (for some reason).

The nadir of this muddled mess is a supposedly “amusing” male rape scene, so spectacularly tone-deaf you feel bad for the two actors — Cary Elwes and Jorge Sanz — involved. Hard to believe nobody told Trueba this was a bad, bad idea.

Not everything in The Queen of Spain is, um, disastrous. There is an ongoing gag about a prestigious American filmmaker (not explicitly stated, but clearly John Ford) who would rather sleep than direct. One or two jokes land but the outcome is such an expensive mess, it’s frankly worth watching. As a cautionary tale.

Worth mentioning: The Queen of Spain did poorly in Trueba’s homeland, allegedly because of a boycott over the director’s lack of patriotism (he once said, in jest, “in case of war, I would go with the enemy”). A massive controversy ensued, but I’m inclined to believe the lack of interest had more to do with the film’s quality than the comments of a man who still thinks ‘gay panic’ is funny.

In short: come for Penélope. Stay for the clusterfuck. ❧