Earlier this week, I was granted the blessing of several uninterrupted hours of extra "me" time and I decided to take advantage of that by rolling the dice and catching a conveniently-playing movie that was completely off my regular beat (so long as it wasn't a 'weepie'). Why not check out a Mexican remake of a German comedy I never saw (or heard of) in the first place? Thanks to the participation of Lionsgate, NO MANCHES FRIDA had been playing successfully for several weeks around town... so I decided to check it out for no particular reason but the hope that it would make me laugh.
So... bank robber "Zequi" (Omar Chaparro), having just done his time, stumbles into a job as a substitute high school teacher so he can have access to the site where his ill-gotten fortune is buried. He figures he can slough off his duties by either letting his polite students watch movies all day OR by bullying the "class from hell" he ultimately inherits. Gee... think Zequi's ultimately going to find his purpose and turn the lives of these troubled teens around with the special inspiration not even he knew he had in him? And is romance in the cards with his adoring colleague Lucy (Martha Higareda)?
What's more to say? NO MANCHES FRIDA may take its cue from a European production (part of a series, actually) but it plays like any American 'super teacher' high-school comedy you care to name. There are, indeed, some laugh-out-loud gags (especially in the first half) and the cast is quite appealing. Then, of course, you hit the second half of the film and the obligatory series of crises... not to mention the drama contest in which our protagonists put a new spin on "Romeo and Juliet." And (heavy sigh) even the cliche I wish had died with AVATAR. "You were USING me?" "Yes, but that's not how I feel NOW..." "I never want to see you again!" I mean, really. We ALL know how it's going to turn out in the end, so could you do us a favor and just spare us the entire delaying tactic from now on?
Now about that title. "No manches" literally means "no stain" but stands as a common expression of disbelief. The subtitles offer "WTF Frida" as a translation of the title ("Frida," in this case, is Frida Kahlo, for whom the high school is named), but when the expression turns up in dialogue, it reads "Are you kidding me?" on screen. I suspect that Lionsgate had a hand in toning down the language for the sake of a PG-13 rating when it comes to these subtitles... for example, the last time I checked, "Chinga la madre" didn't accurately translate to "Hell, yeah!"
That said, the film certainly has a remarkably cavalier attitude to sex and drugs... Zequi seems to have no shortage of pharmacy chemicals with which to drug teachers and students alike according to his needs, and at a late point in the film we take a field trip to a farm for no other reason than for certain characters to get their hands on some blow-darts soaked in goat hormones (for decidedly non-agricultural purposes). Oh, and there's the obligatory "sexing-up" makeover of Lucy's plain-Jane sister. But she's only 14. Okaaayyyyy... maybe I need to familiarize myself with more south-of-the-border comedy before I say anything else. But my guess is that one of the biggest laughs for the target audience lies in the fact that one of the robbers is wearing a Donald Trump mask! (And that's as 'political' as it gets, if you were wondering.)
NO MANCHES FRIDA is nothing new... but it's formula that works quite pleasantly enough for those who tend to enjoy it.
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