A La Mala is a fun, charming story all too familiar to the romantic comedy genre. The Spanish-language film by Issa López and Ari Rosen is a blend of Failure to Launch and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, perfectly pieced together with a beautiful cast, humorous one-liners – and a predictable plot. Although a mirror image to the rom-coms of decades past, A La Mala has its highlights.
The film centers on aspiring actress “Maria Laura” – or “Mala” – (Aislinn Derbez) as she puts her skills to the test and involves herself in other people’s relationships. When her roommate “Kika” (Papile Aurora) asks Mala to flirt with her boyfriend to test his loyalty, Mala inadvertently makes “home wrecking with good intentions” her new profession. This sends her on a months-long quest to prove whether or not all men are “cabrones,” or creeps. When casting director “Patricia” (Daniela Schmidt) hears of Mala’s reputation, there’s a vengeful ultimatum: if Mala makes “Santiago” (Mauricio Ochmann) – Patricia’s rich, handsome ex-boyfriend – fall in love with her and then breaks his heart, Mala gets a juicy role in a television show.
As the film progresses, we see Mala and her relationship with Santiago, eventually causing her to choose between her love life and her career. As predictable as it sounds, there is just enough humor and charm to keep it an enjoyable watch. Like most romantic comedies, there are average Joe sidekicks and leads that are drop-dead gorgeous (and not-so-believably available). However, unlike most romantic comedies, the female lead has an awkward, relatable personality. She’s not emotionally unavailable (Failure to Launch), not a hard-hearted career woman (The Proposal), and not a complete doormat (27 Dresses). Yes, I know my romantic comedies. Mala is likable and has a way of making you root for her happy ending. She is career-driven without being malicious and confident without being pretentious.
The acting is sometimes over-the-top (i.e. one tear rolling down Santiago’s cheek) and the dialogue borderline cheesy, but sometimes it’s nice not having to think too much. Twenty minutes into A La Mala, I forgot I was watching a movie in a foreign language. The humorous scenarios in which Mala finds herself throughout the film translate well onscreen and add a refreshing element to an otherwise cliché story. Furthermore, I forgot I was watching a movie without any gunfire, breakdowns, overdoses, or explosions. Being able to sit back, relax, and enjoy a familiar story may be what audiences are looking for. But if so, they might be better off re-watching When Harry Met Sally on Netflix than venturing out to see A La Mala.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (2/26/15)
Photos: Aislinn Derbez as “Maria Laura ‘Mala'” and Mauricio Ochmann as “Santiago”
Q: Does A La Mala pass the Bechdel Test?
No. Mala’s relationship with Kika is entirely about the men who she is fooling.