By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
When done right, the romantic comedy can be amazing. Strong stories and strong characters wrapped up in a tidy, happy package gives you classic films like “It Happened One Night” or “Say Anything.” Done wrong – poor story, weak characters, cheesy twists, etc. – and you end up with “Fool’s Gold” or pretty much anything with Kate Hudson.
Sadly, the latter is much more common than the former.
Which is why I approached “You’re Killing Me Susan” (a.k.a. “Me estás matando, Susana”) with a fair amount of trepidation.
Luckily, while it didn’t reach into that upper echelon of “rom-coms,” it did manage to be leaps and bounds better than most of Ms. Hudson’s résumé.
In “You’re Killing Me Susana,” Gael García Bernal stars as Eligio – a philandering cut-rate soap opera/commercial actor. Despite his fledgling career, wandering eye, and burgeoning alcoholism, Eligio somehow has managed to land himself a beautiful, patient wife, Susana (Verónica Echegui), who also happens to be a gifted writer.
Yes, things are going swimmingly for Eligio … until they don’t.
After a particularly heavy night of drinking, Eligio wakes to find that Susana is gone. He leaves for work assuming he’ll see his beloved after work. When he returns home, with his drunken friends in tow, he discovers that not only is Susana gone, but so are her clothes and other personal belongings. The only thing left behind is her cell phone.
An extensive search – and borderline stalking – leads Eligio to a college writing program in Iowa, where his bride has fled to seemingly start anew without him weighing her down.
The couple must fight – both literally and figuratively – if they want to rekindle their romance … assuming that’s what they both want.
When most people think “rom-com” they likely think of the typical formula: against her better judgment, the beautiful woman falls for the hunky, but troubled man of her dreams. He screws up – often repeatedly and “hilariously” – but eventually comes around to show her that her love is the only missing from turning him into the man he wants to be … roll credits.
That doesn’t always have to be the case, however, and “You’re Killing Me Susana” is proof of that.
Yes, Eligio is a terribly flawed individual. He lies, he cheats, he does everything to excess. But Susana isn’t much better. She also lies, she also cheats, and she takes the coward’s way out and flees in the cover of Eligio’s blackout.
These are two pretty awful people that are most often toxic in the presence of one another, but that’s what makes their story real. Real is two imperfect people that are perfect together. Real is not always saying or doing the right thing at the right time. Real is what is on display – at least for the most part – throughout this movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t cheering for them. Quite the opposite. Throughout I was kind of hoping that one of them would have to go out and buy a lifetime supply of Valtrex for the two of them to split, or at least that a cook sneezed into their breakfast or something.
But alas neither of those things happened, and by the very end (I mean literally the last minute of the film), I found myself cheering for these two crazy, awful kids.
Credit for that falls completely on the shoulders of Bernal and Echegui. The pair has legitimate onscreen chemistry and their love/hate relationship sucks you into their world. You see and feel their pain, but they’re so incredibly flawed that you kinda want it to continue. Eliciting any sort of emotion other than “aw, I’m so happy they ended up together even though we all knew they’d end up together in the end” is a true accomplishment for a rom-com.
At the end of the day, “You’re Killing Me Susana” isn’t one of those movies that you’ll want to watch over and over, or even feel the need to revisit a year or two from now. But when compared to most others in this sadly watered down genre, it’s certainly worth giving a look.
★★★1/2 of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.