‘Perfect Strangers’: Tension-Filled Dinner Party Dramedy Explores Secrets in the Age of Technology
The double-edged sword that is technology is explored in the Spanish-language dramedy “Perfectos Desconocidos,” or “Perfect Strangers.” This Mexican import, a remake of Paolo Genovese’s Italian film “Perfetti Sconosciuti,” follows a group of seven 40ish friends, three couples and one single, as they sit down to dinner at the home of Eva (Cecilia Suárez), a psychologist, and her husband Antonio (Bruno Bichir), a plastic surgeon. To give an idea of where these different pairs are at in their lives, Eva and Antonio are navigating raising a teenager, Nina (Camila Valero), while Flora (Mariana Treviño) and Ernesto (Miguel Rodarte) are in the thick of raising two little boys, and newlyweds Ana (Ana Claudia Talancón) and Mario (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) are trying for a baby. But this isn’t a family film. Director Manolo Caro dives into adult themes here, as what starts out as a fun parlor game turns into something else entirely. Franky Martín rounds out the cast as Pepe, a divorced, unemployed soccer coach.
“Perfect Strangers” is what is called a chamber drama, as most of the action take place in the dining room of Eva and Antonio. With the exception of Ana, the dinner guest have all been friends for several years, so one would think that there are few secrets amongst them. However, as they discuss the recent divorce of a couple in their circle whose marriage ended after the wife discovered an incriminating text, Eva is inspired to test how well they all know each other by suggesting a game of “phone roulette.” Each guest participating (which ends up being all of them) leaves his or her devices on the table throughout dinner. Not only are they required to read out loud all texts, they also must put all calls on speaker. As there are three couples at the table, these people are treading into dangerous territory, and it’s not just the men. Adding to this lunacy (pun intended) is the backdrop of an eclipse.
Complications arise quickly, as Ernesto asks the single Pepe to switch phones with him to avoid being outed as a philanderer. Predictably, things go awry, but no one sees it coming how spectacularly Ernesto’s plan backfires. But it’s not all about scandal, as at least one husband is revealed to be a fully evolved human being, as is illustrated during a phone call with a close family member. “Perfect Strangers” is the kind of film that keeps the viewer guessing. Also helping to suture the viewer in is the fact that the characters are fully fleshed out, for the most part.
There are a few weaknesses in “Perfect Strangers,” and one of them is a few preachy conversations in the final third. Although many will agree with what is being said, some of the dialogue is a bit heavy handed. Also, the score feels intrusive at times. Ominous music tries to tell the viewer how to think and feel before they can get there on their own.
“Perfect Strangers” opens Jan. 11 in select theaters.