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Dinner and dark comedy is served ****

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A dinner between friends takes a surprising turn thanks to a party game in which the guests learn secrets about each other. Miguel Rodarte and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo star.
Pantelion Films

Delicious dark comedy about old friends who decide to play a dinner-party game in which all texts and phone calls must be answered in front of the group. It’s no surprise when things go wrong.

A mobile phone serves as the black box of our lives, one character opines in “Perfectos Desconocidos.” She’s got a point: It contains our daily minutiae and helps ensure that our secrets stay hidden. 

A lot of those secrets come tumbling out at a dinner party between old friends in “Perfectos Desconocidos,” or “Perfect Strangers,” a deliciously dark comedy from Mexico. The catalyst: A game suggested by hostess Eva (Cecilia Suárez), in which all cellphones are placed in the center of the dining-room table. All incoming messages will be read aloud. Similarly, all calls must be answered on speaker, with the person on the other end of the phone unaware that six other people are listening. 

The movie by director Manolo Caro (Netflix’s “La Casa de Las Flores”) is the latest version of the drawing-room comedy, which first appeared as a 2016 Italian film. Caro approaches the material almost like a thriller. The camera seems to be in constant motion; a smart move with prevents the action from feeling stage-bound. The Rodrigo Dávila score pulsates, adding tension and a mysterious sense of urgency to the proceedings: When are things going to go wrong? And just what secrets are these people keeping?

The group is gathering for dinner and drinks – lots of drinks – under the pretense of watching an eclipse. The party is at the sleek Mexico City home of Eva, a sharp-tongued therapist, and her husband (Bruno Bichir), a sensible plastic surgeon. Friends Flora (Mariana Treviño) and Ernesto (Miguel Rodarte) are similarly affluent, with a fondness for seemingly harmless bickering. 

RELATED: Manolo Caro’s comedy plays ‘like a horror movie’

Then there’s Mario (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who drives an Uber and dreams of getting rich. His girlfriend, Ana (Ana Claudia Talancón), is new to the group and insecure about how she fits in. Pepe (Franky Martín), an unemployed teacher, comes stag after his girlfriend cancels.  

Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (from left), Bruno Bichir, Mariana Treviño and Cecilia Suárez star in “Perfectos Desconocidos.” (Photo: Noc Noc Films/Pantelion Films)

Once the group is together, talk turns to a couple who broke up via text. This spurs Eva to come up with the game. It is a bit odd how quickly everyone consents to play, considering what skeletons lurk in the closets.  

Some of the initial revelations are fairly innocuous, involving things like job opportunities and soccer invites. But they spur conversations between the group, and this is where the movie excels. The dialogue snaps with precision and cringe-worthy humor; at times, you feel like you’re having one of those awkward moments in which you watch a couple bicker. The movie is delicately perched between low-key believability and telenovela melodramatics, yet never falls too far to one side.  

The actors, most of them well-known in Mexico, all create sharply-etched characters with recognizable traits and flaws. Suárez, who stars in “La Casa de Las Flores,” is perfect as someone who likes to stay in control and becomes flustered when she’s not. Rodarte is also a standout, making Ernesto the kind of guy whose insults are delivered with a cheery smile, but there is just enough edge to make you wonder what he really means. 

As the secrets get bigger and more explosive, the characters reveal more flaws and prejudices. One revelation in particular inspires a preachy, obvious moment in which it feels like the audience is being addressed, not the characters. It’s a rare misstep in a movie that doesn’t slip up very often. This is one film worth turning off your cellphone for. 

Reach the reporter at randy.cordova@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8849. Twitter.com/randy_cordova. 

MORE REVIEWS:

‘Perfectos Desconocidos,’ 4 stars

Director: Manolo Caro.

Cast: Bruno Bichir, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Miguel Rodarte, Cecilia Suárez.

Rating: Not rated. 

Note: In Spanish with subtitles. 

Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★

Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★

 

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(Excerpt) Read more Here | 2019-01-07 12:00:00
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