Penélope Cruz is a marvelous dramatic actor, but we don’t get enough chances to bask in the glow of her lustrous comic timing. Penelope Cruz never clings to a single line. Her rhythms are as light as a hummingbird’s wings.
That’s what makes the sharp, witty Spanish-Argentine film Official Competition, directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, such a rare treat. Cruz stars as eccentric but exceedingly focused filmmaker Lola Cuevas, who’s hired by a restless billionaire to direct an adaptation of a high-falutin prize-winning novel about warring brothers. Her idea is to cast two temperamentally opposite actors in the leading roles: Iván (Oscar Martínez) is a snooty intellectual who thinks most projects are beneath him. Félix (Antonio Banderas) is a flashy, award-winning international superstar, though the big one—the Oscar—seems eternally elusive.
Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz participate in the ‘Official Competition’
Manolo Pavon/IFC Films
Lola believes she can use the tension between the two grumps for dramatic effect. However, their animosity grows as they get closer to the shoot date. When Iván, getting into the groove of his character’s rage, tosses a chair Félix’s way, it grazes his forehead, resulting in a pinkie-fingernail-size scratch. Félix howls bloody murder, and the war is on.
Read more reviews by Stephanie Zacharek
All three actors are clearly having a blast with this satire of actorly egos and vanity projects, but it’s Cruz who truly dazzles. As Lola, her diminutive stature topped off by a wily mass of no-nonsense red curls, she’s an oddball dynamo who’s also the smartest person in the room. With an affectionate wink to Lucrecia Martel (Argentine filmmaker), the character may have been partially modeled. In the movie’s most outlandish scene, Lola inflicts comically extreme psychological torture upon her two stars after having bound them together with yards of plastic wrap. Cruz performs this scene with the coolness and professionalism of a lady who isn’t interested in time-wasting schoolboys. It’s easy to adore her. But you sure wouldn’t want to mess with her.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME