Cupcakes (2013)

CupcakesIsrael

1.5*
Director:
Eytan Fox

Screenwriter:
Eli Bijaoui

Eytan Fox
Director of Photography:
Daniel Schneor

Running time: 90 minutes

One would think the world has moved on past the point where putting a man in a dress is a central source of comedy for a film, especially one directed by Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox, whose 2002 film Yossi & Jagger established him as the most important director of gay films in the region.

But in Cupcakes, which features “five girls and a homo” as an act taking part in the UniverSong contest (read, “Eurovision,” but even trashier, if that is possible), a flaming queen named Ofer (Ofer Schechter) skirts the surface of transvestism to pop up in every second scene with a song-and-dance number, or just another wig-and-dress combination, to remind us he is as gay as the day is long.

All of this is supposedly in the name of gay liberation, and of “being yourself”, but the message is drowned out completely by the absolutely ridiculous behavior of the only out gay character. By the way, his boyfriend, Asi (Alon Levi), is famous and closeted, despite his wealthy family’s firm trading on the slogan of authenticity while covering up the sexuality of their handsome heir.  Viewers who know very few gay people may come to the disturbing conclusion Asi is better off staying in the closet.

Of course, we want the boyfriend to be out, but why is there all of this anguish? Does Fox really want us to believe that coming out is such a big deal, when he has a major Jewish character (the country’s bombastic culture minister) openly asking for pork while on a business trip to Paris?

This particular scene in the City of Light has one of the biggest laugh lines of the film, but most of the production reeks with desperately low-budget sets that may or may not be intentionally comical. Even if the director wanted us to revel in a kind of lo-fi musical, the characters are terribly one-dimensional, and the development is exclusively — and predictably — romantic in nature.

But the viewer’s enjoyment of (or repulsion at) the film is rooted almost entirely in the character of Ofer, who all but walks around with a giant spotlight trained on him while he rides a unicorn and has rainbows shooting out of his fingertips. It’s not that his outfits are bad (the only inspired moment is an elegant tuxedo-tutu combination toward the end that shows off his legs), but that there are so many of them we struggle to understand whether this is who he is or whether it is all just a show.

There is something admirable about the message to “be yourself”, but for the purpose of the film, the director has chosen characters who, even if they are being themselves, are only there to make us laugh at their bizarre behavior. For those on the periphery, like the culture minister in Paris, that is fine, but when characters central to the story are vapid and hollow, the thinking viewer should take offense.

Cupcakes may have a musical’s fluffy intentions of pure entertainment, and if that was all it wanted to be, perhaps it could have been mildly interesting. If we know it is a musical, we are willing to suspend our disbelief when characters start belting out an improvised song without hesitation and in perfect unison. But the film has too few songs, and when the genre is less clear, and the production value is this bad, the product is unbelievable and truly dreadful.

One would like to believe a film cannot be this camp unless it is done on purpose. Many of Pedro Almodóvar’s films have outrageously camp moments or characters, but Almodóvar doesn’t expect us to laugh every time they open their mouths or prance around in drag. He feels for them, and he makes us feel for them, too. Fox has no such desire, and his film is a slap in the face of efforts to present complete homosexual characters that don’t simply conform to limp-wristed stereotypes or angst-ridden closet cases.

Not only LGBT cinema but the world at large deserves much better than this silly little film.