The actors supply sizzle, but the their characters’ disagreeable behavior makes viewer involvement impossible, in the Mexican infidelity comedy “You’re Killing Me Susana.”
Directed by Roberto Sneider (“Dos Crimines”) from a screenplay he and Luis Camara adapted from the Jose Agustin novel “Ciudades Desiertas,” the film is a romantic comedy, a cross-cultural adventure, and a critique of standards that allow men to carouse and cheat while expecting women to be faithful and upright.
The story features a 30-something Mexico City couple who have been playing by these rules. The husband can’t handle it when the wife violates them.
Eligio (Gael Garcia Bernal), a conceited and casually unfaithful soap-opera actor who has charmed his way through his life and his marriage, is shocked when his aspiring-novelist wife, Susana (Veronica Echegui), deserts him.
Driven by ego, machismo, and genuine love, Eligio goes online and hunts Susana down. She is in Iowa, attending a writers’ conference, and off he goes, stalker-like, to pursue her there.
After his cocky attitude causes some unpleasantness at U.S. Customs, and his stiffing of a racist cabdriver — anti-Mexican ignorance in the U.S. heartland is a frequent topic — leads to a close call with local authorities, Eligio arrives at the university where Susana is staying.
Fish-out-of-water experiences (snow, gun adoration) occur, and Eligio plants himself in Susana’s dorm room and literary community.
When he discovers that Susana is romantically involved with a Polish poet (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson), Eligio rages jealously and turns on the charm to woo Susana back.
While disliking his methods, Susana succumbs to his pleas. But when Eligio flirts with an Iowa woman (Ashley Grace), Susana resumes her extramarital fling.
The immensely likable Bernal brings both magnetism and substance to his roles (recently, he appeared as the policeman in “Neruda”), and he’s enjoyably infuriating as an embodiment of double gender standards here.
Echegui, a Spanish actress lesser known in these parts, is convincing as a woman trapped between independence and the addictive power dynamics she shares with her controlling husband. Crucially, we believe that these characters love each other and that something meaningful is at stake as their relationship undergoes its upheaval.
But as their back-and-forth love-hate routines continue over an excessive 102 minutes, and as Susana keeps letting Eligio dominate the relationship and cramp her dreams, it becomes hard to root for their togetherness or be amused by their pathology.
Mixing middlebrow farce, broad antics and domestic melodrama, Sneider presents a story too muddy to shine as a dark comedy about a couple hooked on power games and too superficial to succeed as an insightful exploration of such relationships.
Susana is frustratingly underdeveloped. Her Iowa trip is largely an infidelity-related plot device contrived to incense Eligio instead of a fuller-picture self-discovery journey,
All said, the film shapes up as a mildly entertaining missed opportunity, notable for its performances, especially Bernal’s.
You’re Killing Me Susana
Two and a half stars
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Veronica Echegui, Ashley Grace, Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson
Written by: Luis Camara, Roberto Sneider
Directed by: Roberto Sneider
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Note: The film, in Spanish with English subtitles, screens at the Roxie.