‘Official Competition’ Movie Review: Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas Shine in Extraordinary Comedy

Official Competition is a hysterical comedy amplified by Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Oscar Martinez’s marvelous performances. Writer/directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat craft a narrative that contains a rivalry at its roots, but it simultaneously takes aim at the film industry itself. Official Competition is an absolute delight of a comedy.

‘Official Competition’ takes comedic jabs at the filmmaking craft

'Official Competition' Antonio Banderas as Félix Rivero, Penélope Cruz as Lola Cuevas, and Oscar Martínez as Iván Torres. Banderas and Martínez are sitting in chairs under a suspended heavy rock, while Cruz stands behind them.
L-R: Antonio Banderas as Félix Rivero, Penélope Cruz as Lola Cuevas, and Oscar Martínez as Iván Torres | AccuSoft Inc/IFC Films

Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) is a very wealthy businessman who decides to fund a movie that will align his own memory with art. His team recruits a highly-acclaimed director named Lola Cuevas (Cruz) to direct the adaptation of a Nobel Prize-winning book. However, she has her own plans for how the movie is going to go.

Official Competition finds the director recruiting two actors for the lead roles, who couldn’t be more different. Félix Rivero (Banderas) is an accomplished movie star that audiences can’t get enough of. Meanwhile, Iván Torres (Martínez) is a highly-respected actor and teacher, who sees the art in performance. How will their rivalry impact the final product over the course of the preparation process?

Writer/directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat establish quite a rivalry

Official Competition has a top-down approach, starting with Humberto’s motivations that start the project. Cohn and Duprat’s screenplay further builds upon its cast as it moves along, simultaneously introducing the audience to the book’s story. However, Lola’s explanation of the source material hides the conclusion, keeping it a mystery as rehearsals continue to unfold and become progressively more absurd.

Félix and Iván share the same profession as actors, but they couldn’t be more different. They share a similarly unenthusiastic outlook on their respective children, although their differences ultimately establish a rivalry. Iván has a more classical and artistic approach, while Félix has a more straightforward and accessible method. Official Competition pits acting as art vs. performance entertainment.

The two actors are both pretentious in their individual ways. The symbolic motif of cherries runs throughout the movie. Lola calls attention to how it ties the fictitious characters together, but it appears in various ways, including their egotistical behaviors. Iván teaches the next generation of actors, holding his pretentious behavior over them. Meanwhile, Félix flexes an ego built on different achivements over his ex-wife and his assistant.

‘Official Competition’ is a hilarious, hard-hitting comedy about ego

'Official Competition' Penélope Cruz as Lola Cuevas laying on the ground holding both ends of a vacuum tube. One is toward her mouth and the other toward her ear.
Penélope Cruz as Lola Cuevas | Manolo Pavon/IFC Films

Official Competition has a very dry sense of humor that beautifully builds into long-running gags with elongated punchlines. However, some of them run a bit too long, but they remain effective. They all root back to the inherent qualities of Lola, Félix, and Iván. Cohn and Duprat are constantly taking jabs at the film industry’s ego from the producers and directors down to the actors, although it also extends to their outlook on the audience.

Cruz, Banderas, and Martínez offer a magnificent trio of performances that make Cohn and Duprat’s comedy work. They share excellent on-screen chemistry, but they’re able to do so without ever stealing the spotlight from one another. They work together seamlessly and allow each other to shine in key moments.

Official Competition holds a mirror up to the audience, which becomes incredibly clear within the final act. Cohn and Duprat leave moviegoers with some questions before the credits roll and your answers largely depend on your personal experience with the story that preceded them. Official Competition is a hysterical examination of the ego that really flexes the power of Cruz, Banderas, and Martínez.

Official Competition arrives in theaters on June 17.

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