A 15-year-old Mexican sex comedy might not seem like a prime candidate for release on the prestigious Criterion label, but Solo Con Tu Pareja gets the nod primarily due to its status as Alfonso Cuaron’s first feature-length movie. The film was a huge hit in 1991 in its native Mexico and led to Cuaron’s successful career alternating between high-profile projects in both the US and Mexico, most recently with this year’s Children of Men. Cuaron has proven to be an immensely talented director and writer, so Criterion deserves praise for finally giving US viewers the opportunity to discover his first movie.
While the broad term “sex comedy” implies mindless jiggle, obscene gags, and stereotypical characters, Cuaron’s film has significant substance and avoids clichés. It follows the escapades of a carefree playboy with the amusing name of Tomas Tomas as he blithely leaps from bed to bed until he’s hit with the double whammy of true love and shocking medical news. After a brief introductory set-up, the film hits its stride when Tomas starts farcical dates with two different girls at nearly the same time, juggling them between two nearby apartments while he travels back and forth via a narrow outside ledge. During one of these apartment transitions, he spots the girl of his dreams through the window of the apartment in between, finding himself instantly smitten in spite of her relationship with a dashing airline pilot. That’s just the kind of guy he is; he already has two girls in bed and he’s still on the prowl.
Although Tomas succeeds in deceiving both of his conquests during their dates, one of them later learns about the other, sending her into a fit of rage that culminates in her falsifying his medical records with a positive result on a test of a playboy’s worst fear: AIDS. Concurrently, Tomas swears off all other women to focus on romancing the beautiful neighbor girl, discovering a new sense of maturity and possibly true love for the first time. When he learns the results of his medical tests, he resolves to commit suicide but still finds compassion in his heart to try to protect his neighbor from learning of her pilot boyfriend’s infidelity. This helps to bring them together and leads to a shot at mature, true love for both of them.
In spite of its age, the film doesn’t seem dated except for its use of AIDS as a bogeyman. It’s odd how AIDS has lost its scare power over the years, but the film reminds viewers of how devastating it was to the cultural psyche of the time, especially with comedic yet insightful throwaway lines like Tomas’s insistence that “you can’t catch it over a phone line.” Here it’s used as a sobering wake-up call that the protagonist finally has to grow up and get serious about life, assisting in his rebirth as a dedicated monogamist.
Rather than reinforce the stereotype of a smarmy Latin lothario, Cuaron defies expectations by giving his lead substantial depth as an extremely average man with a stable, unspectacular career. Tomas is not particularly attractive, muscular or rich, but he still manages to use his charm to land dates with ease. He’s so immature that his idea of a good time is a daily morning streaking run to the bottom of his apartment building’s stairs and back. This focus on the common man allows viewers to more easily identify with the character and sympathize when his life changes.
Similarly, the love interests in the film aren’t mindless bimbos. One conquest is Tomas’ boss, an intelligent and demanding mature woman. Another is a nurse who plots her revenge but still cares enough for Tomas to come to his rescue. Finally, the principal object of his affection is a lovelorn young beauty who doesn’t fall for his charms but instead grows to love him through the genuine care he shows toward her.
This being a Criterion release, the DVD package is stacked with bonus content. Features include new interviews with the creators, early short films by both Cuaron and his brother Carlos, the original trailer, and a booklet with an essay about the film as well as an extensive biography of Tomas Tomas originally written to help the actor get fully immersed in the character. The presentation of the actual movie is superb, with rich, striking colors, digital restoration to remove dirt and scratches, and a new high-definition digital transfer from the original camera negative. Nothing less would be expected from the highly-regarded Criterion, and they uphold their meticulous standards yet again with this release.
Written by Caballero Oscuro