Selena Gomez's Trans Cartel Musical Is the Buzz of Cannes – The Daily Beast

‘IT’S A MUSICAL!’
“Emilia Perez” is a parade of big swings that shouldn’t work. Its Cannes Film Festival premiere proved it’s not for everyone, but those who give into it are loving the wild ride.
Nothing about Selena Gomez’s new movie that premiered at Cannes should work.
Let’s just review the plot. Stay with me here.
Emilia Perez is the mostly Spanish-language story of a lawyer, Rita (Zoe Saldaña), who is hired by a notorious cartel leader, Manitas, who has been on hormones for two years, to make secret arrangements for a gender confirmation surgery. Rita makes millions in the process. Cut to four years later: Manitas is now Emilia Perez. She is impossibly glamorous and has another task for Rita. Emilia (Karla Sofía Gascón) wants the lawyer, now a success in London, to retrieve her wife, Jessi (Gomez), and children from their hideaway in Switzerland and install them in a house in Mexico City, where Emilia will pose as her own kids’ aunt. Jessi assumes that Manitas is dead and has no idea who Emilia really is, but she wants to return to get back together with the sexy Gustavo (Édgar Ramírez), with whom she had an affair. Later, Emilia, atoning for her crimes as the ruthless Manitas, opens a foundation to locate the bodies of disappeared people.
This is all directed by a French filmmaker, the celebrated Jacques Audiard, who won the Palme d’Or in 2015 for Dheepan, about Tamil refugees. And, also, in the immortal words of Patti LuPone: It’s a musical.
Yes, amid all of this over-the-top telenovela plot there is singing and dancing, including one number in which Rita learns about surgery while doctors chant the name of procedures. The press screening at the Cannes Film Festival was met with applause, and audiences are (largely) eating it up. (The dissenters, however, are already loud.) In a Cannes year with already one truly wild movieFrancis Ford Coppola’s MegalopolisEmilia Perez is a close second in terms of sheer content. And yet despite how ridiculous it sounds on paper, Emilia Perez frequently does succeed in its goals, making it one of the boldest love-it-or-hate-it-movies of the festival.
Emilia Perez wins you over by being unabashedly sincere. It takes its mission in all of its various genres—musical, crime thriller, and soap opera—seriously thanks to the committed performances and Audiard’s expressive direction. Nothing is treated as a gag despite the inherent zaniness of the performances. Ultimately, it’s really earnest, above all else.
Saldaña is the anchor. The saga starts with Rita, who bemoans her job defending the rich and powerful in a song that spills out from the page of a document she’s writing onto the streets of a market, where she’s joined by a chorus. In her most triumphant number, she starts dancing her way through a gala, calling out all the evil politicians and businessmen in her wake, grinding in their faces. Meanwhile, we know Gomez can sing, but it’s thrilling to see her combine her acting chops with her pop star charisma, as the heartbroken, trapped Jessi bemoans her lot in life.
Still, the movie belongs to breakout Karla Sofía Gascón, a trans Spanish actress best known for her work in telenovelas. Unlike Saldaña and Gomez who belt, Gascón’s songs are mostly plaintive ballads she delivers quietly. She portrays a woman torn between past and former selves, first seeking to feel like her true self and then hoping for love in return. A scene between Emilia and her daughter is one of the most touching.
Sure, there are elements of Emilia Perez that are unwieldy. To get everything in, some plots are shortchanged, mostly Jessi’s relationship with Gustavo, who is mostly silent, despite the presence of Ramírez. There is ultimate tenderness, but also some exploitation in the depiction of gender transition. It’s also a little eyebrow raising that few of the actors are from Mexico: Rita explains she is Dominican but moved there. Jessi says she has family in the U.S. The film is certainly a tourist’s view of the country. It was mostly shot in Paris.
But there’s also an intoxicating quality to the experience of watching Emilia Perez, especially when it becomes a musical odyssey, and Audiard’s camera swirls around the performers giving it their all to songs by French singer Camille, which are more pop opera than toe tapper.
The messages are ultimately simple: It’s a movie all about finding yourself, but it comes to that conclusion in such a gonzo way you can’t help but give in to it.
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