CREDIT: Noc Noc Films courtesy of Pantelion Films

This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2019.

Starring: Cecilia Suárez, Manuel García-Rulfo, Mariana Treviño, Miguel Rodarte, Bruno Bichir, Ana Claudia Talancon, Franky Martin

Director: Manolo Caro

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: R for Inhibitions Being Lifted

Release Date: January 11, 2019 (Limited)

Honesty is always the best policy, but that does not mean that you need to be completely open all the time about your secrets. It is stunning that in 2019 humanity is still learning that lesson. But alas, sometimes we act foolishly when we should know better, and people alive today keep re-learning the lessons that our ancestors already learned the past several thousand years. Thus, while the premise of the Mexican film Perfectos Desconocidos (Perfect Strangers in English) sounds like fun (and there are some amusing moments), its participants ought to realize that it is an easy recipe for disaster.

A group of seven best friends are gathered for a dinner party on the night of a lunar eclipse, and they all agree to participate in a game: their cell phones will remain on the table throughout the meal, and any calls must be placed on speaker and any messages received must be read aloud. This is a remake of the 2016 Italian film Perfetti Sconosciuti, which has already been redone multiple times throughout much of Europe and Asia. This is actually the second Perfectos Desconocidos, with Spain’s version having arrived in 2017. It goes to show you that the fear of being found out as a fraud or discovering that those closest to you are frauds is universal.

That insight may not be the most astounding revelation, but its relatability potentially provides the opportunity for a meaningful dramatization. On that score, director Manolo Caro and his ensemble have plenty worthwhile to say, but their approach is a little scattered. There are moments of heavy farce, heartwarming familial bonding, and social commentary that tend to gracelessly crash against each other instead of flowing into each other naturally. Each individual element works on its own merit to a certain extent, at least. One scene of a father offering sage advice to his teenage daughter while she is unaware that everyone else can hear her is especially heartwarming.

Overall, there is a sense that Perfectos Desconocidos has bitten off more than it can chew. Its approach to tackling discrimination is the clearest example (although it is possible that this storyline plays better south of the border). As one character struggles with inadvertently coming out of the closet, there is panic about how gay teachers might influence their students, among other worries. It makes me wonder if mainstream Mexican culture is about ten or twenty years behind the United States on this issue. Indeed, one character even evokes Seinfeld by uttering, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Ultimately, this mix of lowbrow and surprising ambition is enough to give you indigestion, due to ingredients that are not quite compatible or not quite fully cooked. Let’s just chalk up any inconsistencies to the moon making people do crazy things and choose to remember from this night only what we want to remember.

Perfect Strangers is Recommended If You Like: Domestic farce, playing Truth or Dare at any age

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Incoming Messages