After dipping out of his usual routine for one unexpected horror picture (‘The Skin I Live In’) and a little absurd comedy (‘I’m So Excited’), the colorful Spanish formalist Pedro Almodóvar returns to his melodrama comfort zone with ‘Julieta’. Unfortunately, it’s not so much as a triumphant revival of old strengths as much a retread of past hits.
This adaptation of three Alice Munro short stories feels like a movie that Almodóvar could have done in his sleep, and the final results suggest there’s a chance that he may have done just that. While the movie has some sumptuous images and swelling emotions, none of them quite register like they should.
The film is about (surprise, surprise) a woman named Julieta. We first meet her deep into middle age played by Emma Suarez. She seems content in her life until a chance encounter sends her into a spiraling depression necessitating that she quit her current relationship and start journaling like crazy. From there, we meet Julieta at a younger age portrayed by Adriana Ugarte. A chance encounter on a train thrust her into an intense love affair that spawned a daughter. Sadly, that relationship ended in tragedy that left her a weeping widow. Her daughter was forced to care for Julieta during this period, which she eventually resented enough to run away. Guess what, more depression followed.
This is a big ol’ weepy defined by broad soap opera plot twists and emotions so large that it almost feels like no screen could possibly be big enough to contain them. As usual, Almodóvar fills his canvas with vibrant colors and meticulous fames that burst off the screen and enhance the emotions. However, those emotions ring a bit false this time. More often than not, the visuals only emphasize the dullness of the story rather than heighten its impact. Performances are strong and some of the director’s cheeky wit slips in between the cracks, but something about the source material from Alice Munro just doesn’t quite click with Almodóvar’s style. Eventually, all the moping and emoting feels laughable.
All that being said, the movie isn’t a disaster. It has some moving moments as well as some gloriously cinematic transitions. ‘Julieta’ is just a minor Almodóvar effort that never quite clicks. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that all the themes about loss and regrets and mothers have been touched on by the filmmaker so many times before, and it feels stale for both the artist and the audience. Regardless, most folks should feel comfortable skipping the movie if they’ve dabbled with this director before. Perhaps if you’ve never seen any of his past triumphs it might feel more exciting, but for anyone else, it’s a bit of a yawn.