Almost ten years ago Penélope Cruz originated the role of upcoming Spanish movie star Macarena Granada in a frothy little confection called “The Girl of Your Dreams.” It’s years later in real and reel life as Granada and Cruz return to the screen.
Set in 1956, “The Queen of Spain” begins just as the official Franco international blockade comes to an end. Granada is now a huge international star lured back to her home country to star in the first American movie to be shot there since the dictator took power, but there are specific rules.
“I wrote this script about Columbus,” says writer Jordan Berman (Mandy Patinkin).
“Mr. Franco decided he could help us if we made something about Queen Isabella so I had to rewrite it. It took me three days and six bottles of whiskey. We worked under the watchful eyes of Franco’s people.”
Producer Sam Spiegelman (Arturo Ripstein) brings on an eclectic crew to bring the story of the “Catholic Queen” to life on the big screen. Berman is a blacklisted writer prevented from working in the States because of his communist leanings. Leading man Gary Jones (Cary Elwes) is gay, spending his off hours hitting on his male co-star. Also along for the ride is director John Scott (Clive Revill) legendary for his filmmaking and love of the hootch.
Complicating matters is Blas Fontiveros (Antonio Resines), Granada’s former director and the man who made her a star. Presumed after the events of the first film—he helped a Jewish extra escape the Nazis and was incarcerated and then disappeared—he returns, taking a job as the new film’s second unit director. No sooner has he begun work than he is arrested—turned in by his vindictive ex-wife—and forced to do hard labour. To save Granada concocts a rescue plan to shuttle her mentor (and former lover) to safety in France.
“The Queen of Spain” plays like an overstuffed piquillo pepper. Given the ingredients it should be delicious but instead it is too much; sloppy and unsatisfying. Between the screwball comedy, historical perspective, lacklustre musical number in the film-within-the-film and story of intrigue, what should have been a breezy farce is a bit of a slog. A beautiful looking one—director Fernando Trueba pays fitting tribute to the films of the era—but a slog nonetheless.