Review: ANA MARIA IN NOVELA LAND, Charting The Familiar With Uncommon Insight

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)
Review: ANA MARIA IN NOVELA LAND, Charting The Familiar With Uncommon Insight

Young and willful, Ana Maria Soto loses jobs as easily as she live-tweets her favorite telenovela. It just comes naturally to the 24-year-old woman, who still lives at home with her middle-class parents and makes grand statements about her principles while making no plans for the future.

It's a comfortable existence for Ana Maria, allowing her to focus primarily on Pasion Sin Limites, a typical Spanish-language, limited-run soap opera. The show is approaching its conclusion, which gives her an excuse to write fan fiction instead of doing her job, and to blow off real-life friends and possible romances -- including her longtime next-door neighbor, who is now a doctor -- because her Twitter followers 'demand' her commentary, at least in her vivid imagination.

And then one night Ana Maria's house is struck by lightning while she is watching the show, and she changes places with the show's lead character, Ariana. Thus, the title of the movie comes true: Ana Maria in Novela Land.

The title is a double-edged sword, though. In one sense, Ana Maria has already been living in her own cosseted fantasy world, believing she can do whatever she wants, with few if any consequences. She is only too happy, then, to enjoy her material dreams come true, times two: a fantastic wardrobe, a fantastic room of her own, a fantastic bathroom -- though she briefly wrinkles her brow at the absence of a toilet -- and, in general, all the new-found glories of a really great, if childish, fantasy.

Ana Maria fares much better than Ariana -- pobrecita -- who finds herself in an alien world (i.e., a common though quite comfortable middle-class household) believing that she has been kidnapped. She does not understand why she is not treated as royalty, or why she is not the center of attention, or why her clothes are not so high-toned and fancy.

Constructed as a very broad modern version of Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo, with a dose of Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz tossed in for good measure, Ana Maria in Novela Land benefits with the addition of a parallel storyline. That allows more room for gentle social commentary, albeit along very traditional, conservative lines of thinking, as in, be grateful for what you have, including family, friends, and some place to lay your head, however modest it may be.

Although the telenovela parody at first appears to be entirely mocking, something more is clearly afoot. Georgina Garcia Riedel, who directed and co-wrote the script with Jose Nestor Marquez, included a brief telenovela parody scene in her directorial debut, How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer, way back in 2005, so she's obviously aware of the territory, but here she charts it with uncommon insight.

As with any sub-genre, telenovelas stick to certain selling points, but the best shows also include fine-tuned explorations of character and allow space for on-point performances. Ana Maria and Ariana are both played by Edy Ganem, who sparkles in the former role and exudes despair in the latter, yet both characters obviously represent the outer edges of a single personality. Even with all the silliness that abounds, the focus remains on that personality, which drives the whole thing forward.

Good fun is also exhibited by a strong cast that includes Elizabeth Peña in one of her final roles as Ana Maria's mother, Luis Guzman as a very funny (and sneaky) supporting character in the telenovela. and Michael Steger as a shy next-door doctor (in real life) and a floridly demanding lover (in the telenovela).

With sense of humor intact, Ana Maria in Novela Land moves at a steady pace toward a dramatic finish. It may feel a bit thin at times, but it's made out of strong, heartfelt material.

The film opens in limited theatrical release in the U.S. on Friday, February 27.

Ana Maria in Novela Land

  • Georgina Garcia Riedel
  • Georgina Garcia Riedel
  • Jose Nestor Marquez
  • Edy Ganem
  • Michael Steger
  • Juan Pablo Gamboa
  • Sosie Bacon
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Edy GanemElizabeth PenaGeorgina RiedelLuis GuzmanMichael StegerGeorgina Garcia RiedelJose Nestor MarquezJuan Pablo GamboaSosie BaconComedyDramaRomance

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