Gael García Bernal is one of the most consistently charming actors working today. So I considered myself lucky to spend 90 minutes with him on Tuesday, when You’re Killing Me Susana screened at the Oriental Theater.
One of the Milwaukee Film Festival’s 2017 selections, the movie was filmed (partly) in Mexico, and festival organizers are donating all proceeds from its screenings to relief efforts underway in Mexico and Puerto Rico. That should give you extra incentive to catch one of the film’s remaining two screenings.
The movie opens in a modest Mexico City apartment shared by charismatic main characters Eligio (Gael García Bernal) and Susana (Veronica Echegui). Eligio is an actor working the soap opera circuit, Susana an aspiring writer.
Eventually Susana tires of her hard-partying husband’s carousing and womanizing and leaves him early one morning without a word. After some comedic sleuthing, Eligio realizes that she’s flown to Iowa – to a writer’s workshop at the fictitious Middlebrook University – and decides to chase after her. You might be thinking that he should have stayed put while thinking through why she wanted to leave in the first place, and you’d be right. But traipsing across the Midwest while picking fights with her at university parties and making embarrassingly public declarations of love actually seems to serve him pretty well, because Susana decides to let him stay stateside with her while she finishes her novel, and the two briefly bond over their shared ambivalence toward Middle American values (and food). But then Eligio inexplicably cheats … again. And so Susana flees … again, leaving viewers to wonder whether their second uncoupling will stick.
The film’s plotting is sometimes improbable and its tone inconsistent, but it is saved by its leads. The aforementioned Bernal is every bit as captivating as he was 16 years ago, in Alfonso Cuarón Orozco’s Academy Award-nominated Y Tu Mamá También, and his Eligio charms even when he is at his most caddish.
And though Echegui isn’t given enough lines (probably why her final-act admission doesn’t pack quite as much of an emotional punch as director Roberto Sneider must have intended), she effectively wrings pathos even out of terse retorts and stony silences.
Still, I couldn’t help but think that the story – based on José Agustín’s 1982 novel Deserted Cities – must work better in print than on a big screen. Viewers can see what drives the characters apart, but they aren’t given as clear a picture of what brings them together again and again.
Even so, the film more-or-less successfully captures the pleasure, and pain, of a love-hate relationship between two compelling, but deeply flawed, characters. And, again, it’s 90 minutes of Gael García Bernal on a giant screen.
Go See It: You’re Killing Me, Susana
- Tuesday, October 10, 3:30 p.m. (Times Cinema)
- Thursday, October 12, 7 p.m. (Fox Bay Cinema)