Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ana Maria in Novela Land: A Telenovela Pulls a Body Switch

The only thing Ana Maria Soto is industrious about is tweeting telenovelas. She has a fair number of followers, but none them are her quickly exasperated work colleagues. Those gigs never last long anyway. Frankly, even her long suffering family hardly notices the difference when she pulls a 1980s style body-switcheroo with the heroine of the telenovela she currently tweets. Fish will be out of water and lessons will be learned in Georgina Garcia Riedel’s Ana Maria in Novela Land (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Soto just got pink-slipped from another job and flaked out on her older sister’s bridal dress fitting. Her family is pretty bummed out with her, but everything seems to make sense when tonight’s episode of Passion Without Limits starts. However, a freak electricity surge exchanges her consciousness with the lead character, Ariana Tomosa, who is engaged to a wealthy older man, while carrying on an affair with his brooding son.

Of course, Soto knows all this, so she adapts to life in the telenovela relatively easily. On the other hand, Tomosa is out to sea in the real world, but Tony, the young neighborhood internist who always carried a torch for Soto, will help the presumed amnesiac start to act like a real person. In fact, she soon becomes easier to live with than the real Ana Maria, despite her dramatic nature. Meanwhile, Soto enjoys vamping it up in the telenovela, but she knows full well its limited run will soon conclude—and then what?

Initially, Novela Land is kind of amusing and it features fan favorite Luis Guzmán playing Schmidt, Tomosa’s scheming attorney nemesis. Sadly, it is also the final film of Elizabeth Peña (Lone Star, La Bamba, Down and Out in Beverly Hills), who has some nice moments giving uncooperative bridal staff what-for. Still, there is not much heft to the film, even before starts recycling its body switch jokes.

Everyone hams it up, because obviously. Still, Edy Ganem effectively differentiates Soto from Tomosa. There are a few inventive gags, such as when Soto happens to wander into a Korean soap opera. Pepe Serna deadpans nicely as Father Miguel, but the forthcoming Man from Reno is a much more compelling (and infinitely darker) showcase for his under-appreciated chops.

Unfortunately, Soto’s K-drama interlude is as surreal as the film gets. Given the premise (essentially an updated riff on the John Candy movie Delirious), Riedel and co-screen-writer Jose Nestor Marquez could have played more mischievous games with on-screen reality, but they mostly just keep it safe and sentimental. Too sitcom-my and not nearly out there enough for mainstream genre audiences, Ana Maria in Novela Land is mostly just for fans like Soto when it opens this Friday (2/27) at the Burbank and Orange AMC theaters in California.