You can blame Trump, at least in part, for the fact that “La Boda de Valentina” (“Valentina’s Wedding”) is a better political satire than it is a romantic comedy.
Set mostly in Mexico City, this bilingual rom-com, about an engaged woman married off on paper to another man for the optics by her politically ambitious family, largely succeeds as a broad sendup of the faux-populism and moral hypocrisy of politics, Mexico-style. I breathed easy not because the central couple finally found love and completeness, but because it was so refreshing to enjoy political satire again without that POTUS-induced tinge of existential despair.
That the central character, played by Marimar Vega, is named “Valentina” tells you pretty much all you need to know about how much thought director Marco Polo Constandse (“Cásese quien pueda”) and writers Santiago Limón and Issa López put into the romance plot. We never get a strong sense of why Valentina, who works at a philanthropic foundation in Boston, says yes when her gringo boyfriend Jason (Ryan Carnes, “General Hospital”) proposes.
The son of a wealthy tech magnate (Kate Vernon, “Battlestar Galactica”), the blond lunk seems unfazed when his fiancée insists that her family shouldn’t come to their wedding, nor will he meet Valentina’s parents before the big day. When he drops off his beloved at the airport — she needs to take care of something in Mexico before the wedding, she says — Jason warns her not to get kidnapped or beheaded. Cool guy.
Vega has no chemistry with Carnes, and pretty much all the English-language scenes suffer from a stiltedness that underscores the artificialities of the script’s convolutions. But once Valentina lands in Mexico and reunites with her “Arrested Development”-style clan of wealthy, dysfunctional, clueless, and highly corruptible screw-ups, “La Boda de Valentina” finds its groove in satisfying caricature.
We meet Valentina’s lecherous grandfather (Álvaro Carcaño, “Deep Crimson”), her luxuriously imprisoned aunt (Mexican screen legend María Rojo), her former-beauty-queen stepmother (Sabine Moussier), and her hot-headed, drunk-driving half-brother (Jesús Zavala, “Club of Crows”). Buckling under the pressure to bring glory to the Hidalgo family, Valentina’s rubber-spined father (Christian Tappán), running to be mayor of Mexico City, marries his out-of-the-country daughter to an old flame, Angel (Omar Chaparro, “How to Be a Latin Lover”), to hide the family fortune in his son-in-law’s name during the campaign.
(That seems much more complicated than opening up an account in the Caymans, but to think about any of the movie’s logistics for more than a second would be to throw a bucket of water on an intricate hairdo.)
Vega and Chaparro are instantly warm and funny and spiky together, and the film’s primary flaw is not giving this inevitable couple the time they need for us to fall in love with them. Instead, most of the hijinks involve Jason’s inexorable surprise visit to Mexico City, where Valentina’s past and present men enjoy a bro tour around the city: tequila, lucha libre and, um, electrocuting themselves in a contest of manly endurance.
The friendship that develops between the two hombres is an interesting departure from the usual antagonism between suitors, but that’s also time that we could have spent learning, well, anything about Valentina, other than that she’s perfect and misses Mexico more than she’d realized.
Unfortunately, the satire does get mushy as Valentina “fixes” her family and they become more sympathetic. The film is sharp when mocking the circus-like symbiosis between politics and the media, but doesn’t quite know how to circle the square of identifying with a heroine benefitting from the inequality that her family helps perpetuate, leading to a maudlin speech to Jason about how he’ll never understand the hardships of being the progeny of a filthy rich and terribly recognizable family (even though that’s pretty much his whole deal, too).
Part incomplete rom com, part squishy lampoon, “La Boda de Valentina” ultimately falls short in both modes, but accomplishes just enough to warrant a RSVP.