Does this count as hovering?

Theatrical Release Date: 01/28/2011
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella, Eduard Fernández, Cheikh Ndiaye, Diaryatou Daff, Taisheng Cheng


Maybe I should look at the road when it’s raining.

Thanks to the reputation of director Alejandro González Iñárritu and the casting of Javier Bardem, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that “Biutiful” earned itself a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination this year (Bardem’s individual nomination was a little unexpected). However, since the rules about this category state that voters must have seen all 5 films (a stipulation sadly not required for everything), I can hold out hope that this won’t win.

Why am I so negative? First of all: Hi, I’m Ian. Have we met? Second: The bottom line is that “Biutiful” tries so hard to be complex and dramatic that it comes off as pretentious, boring and long.

Iñárritu is best known for directing “Amores Perros”, “21 Grams” and “Babel“. Apparently though, the strength of these films lies in its cast and the script (all of which were written by Guillermo Arriaga).

With this film, Arriaga wasn’t behind the scenes furiously typing on a laptop and the writing duties fell to Iñárritu and two others. While I was initially excited to see that this wasn’t another film where three stories are interwoven in a non-linear fashion, about midway through this two and half hour wannabe epic, I was missing the mental stimulation trying to piece those elements together provided.

The basic story is that Uxbal (Bardem) and his wife, Marambra (Maricel Álvarez), are trying to reconcile, perhaps for the sake of their two children. Marambra’s lack of adherence to the treatment of her bipolarism doesn’t help matters. Or is it that the story is about Uxbal’s ability to see the spirits of dead people and help them move on to the next plane of existence? Or is it that Uxbal makes money coordinating illegal aliens in Spain (both Senegalese and Chinese) to work construction and sell drugs, caring so much about them all that he puts the well being of his family life in the back of his mind at times? Or is it that Uxbal must set his affairs in order and figure out who will take care of his children once he is diagnosed with cancer? It’s as if there were four decent ideas for what to base the story on were talked about and nobody could rule any one of them out.

Of more concern than Iñárritu’s self-indulgence regarding the story is that the overall feeling coursing through my body for the last two hours was that of boredom. I never became invested in Uxbal’s life, despite a decent performance from Bardem, because the scattered plot lines never made much sense to me. Why should I care about this man, whose foremost priority is the welfare of his children, but he continually makes poor choices that are sure to affect his family negatively? It would be one thing if terrible things happened in his life that he had no control over but that’s not the case here.

So again, although it was nice to see Iñárritu break out of his storytelling comfort zone, and try to spread his wings without the collaboration between himself and Arriaga, the end result simply missed the mark for me. A 2 out of 5, “Biutiful” needed to be simplified and focus on only one or two of the myriad of plot lines. It showcases Bardem’s tremendous talents but even that can only go so far in a bloated production seemingly more concerned with directorial pats on the back than audience fatigue.

2 out of 5