It’s hard to imagine that anything that Alex de la Iglesia could do behind the scenes is actually crazier than what he puts on the screen in “My Big Night,” but he begged to differ at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of his latest film, noting that the studio attempted to fire him twice (apparently actually succeeding once) before announcing triumphantly, “I’m really proud of this one because it’s so absurd.”
In fact, de la Iglesia has a lot to be proud of, but that’s because there is a method to his madness, once again showing in “My Big Night” that he’s one of the most sophisticated filmmakers currently working in the world, even if his tastes run toward the deranged and sleazy. Only de la Iglesia would think to turn the taping of a New Year’s Eve special into a cataclysmic event, playing on the frayed nerves of TV hosts, performers and the extras in the audience who have been pretending to enjoy themselves for two weeks as cameras roll. Anxieties are already high when an overzealous crane operator slams into one of the extras, but the show must go on, leading to the arrival of Jose (Pepón Nieto), an average-looking guy picked by the station manager solely because he won’t overshadow the others at his table. Still, he catches the attention of Paloma (Blanca Suárez), a comely young woman who, coincidentally or not, has a habit of taking an interest in men who subsequently suffer gruesome injuries or death.
There’s so much more to “My Big Night,” but just as de la Iglesia allows his camera to glide through the busy set with tracking shots that would make Emmanuel Lubezki and Alejandro Innaritu blush, he lets Jose and Paloma’s courtship lead the way through a series of side debacles involving the show’s producer (Santiago Segura) who is dealing with a union strike and an overburdened production crew, married hosts (Carolina Bang and Hugo Silva) who have come to hate each other’s guts, and the show’s top billed performer, a Julio Iglesias-esque singer named Alphonso (Raphael, a real-life famed Spanish singer) that must fend off a hitman hired by his manager and worse, a prettyboy competitor named Adan (Mario Casas) that’s his opening act who himself is dealing with a pair of women hoping to blackmail him by stealing his sperm and squeeze him for child support. At first, all these storylines cooked up by de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarría seem too much to handle for de la Iglesia as a director, but he quickly finds his footing, embracing the chaos to give the film a propulsive madcap energy that’s been a staple of his finest films “El Crimen Ferpecto” and “800 Bullets.”
Unlike the characters they play, the actors all seem to be having a great time, relishing the opportunity to dial their performances past 11 in order to match the booming soundtrack. Nieto and Suarez are so effortlessly charming, they make their odd coupling work and in particular, Raphael seems to delight in sending up his immaculately coiffed image, preserved in the film with hyperbaric chambers and hiding a mean streak a mile wide. However, de la Iglesia emerges as the real star, conjuring fond memories of Brian De Palma and Pedro Almodovar’s very best examples of lowbrow high art with torrid stylization and brilliant craftsmanship in service of a shamelessly funny comedy. Few directors can pull off comedies that feel this big in scale, and while “My Big Night” threatens to exhaust the audience as much as the restless one that appears on screen, de la Iglesia creates one night you couldn’t possibly forget.
“My Big Night” doesn’t yet have U.S. distribution.