Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Cupcakes: Israel the Inclusive
UniverSong competition is like Pop Idol,
but more nationalistic. Israel has never placed highly, despite their assiduous
but counterproductive efforts. However, this year they might have an outside
chance when six Tel Aviv neighborhood friends are unexpectedly tapped to
represent their country—provided they stay true to their own voices in Eytan
Fox’s Cupcakes (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
on the Eurovision Song Contest (which Israel has participated in since 1973),
UniverSong is a big deal to for Anat, the bakery owner (care to speculate as to
what her specialty might be?). Unfortunately, her husband’s sudden decision to
abscond to Thailand puts a damper on her viewing party. The massive egg laid by
Israel’s contestant does not help either. To cheer her up, five neighbors sing
her an improvised “Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow” style ditty. It actually sounds
pretty good thanks to her friends’ heart and the acoustic guitar accompaniment
of lesbian alt-rocker Efrat.
fact, it sounds so good, out-and-proud school teacher Ofer submits his cell
phone video to the UniverSong equivalent of the Israeli Olympic committee, who
decide to think outside the box and select the amateurs. The presence of former
beauty queen turned business woman Yael probably did not hurt. Of course,
everyone but Ofer is initially reluctant to participate for their own reasons,
but eventually all but Dana, the press secretary to the Orthodox minister of
culture, comes around. Even Keren, the shy blogger (is there really such a
thing?) signs on for the contest. Unfortunately, the national organizers are
determined to make them as cheesy as Israel’s last crash-and-burn competitor.
you enjoy compulsively upbeat Israeli pop, your film has arrived. It is all
very poppy and peppy and candy-colored, but audiences will be hard pressed to
remember much by the time the closing credits stop rolling. Yet, Cupcakes is significant in one respect.
It paints a vibrant portrait of Israel’s diversity and tolerance.
knows Ofer and Efrat are gay and lesbian, but that does not stop anyone from
rooting for him. Ofer is matter-of-factly entrusted with the nation’s young
skulls full of mush, frequently putting on drag shows for his appreciative
charges—with no protests. Even his difficult romance with the closeted son of
the Israeli UniverSong sponsor is a decidedly low stakes issue. One of the
Israeli UniverSong organizers says “we are proud of our proud contestants,” lamenting
they did not have an Arab member, as well. Of course, that is hardly likely to
happen given said gay and lesbian band-mates.
cast convincingly come across like comfortable friends with years of shared
history together. Their casual moments together feel right. Actress-model Yael
Bar-Zohar brings surprisingly rich subtlety and maturity to her ex-Miss Israel
namesake, whereas Ofer Shechter over indulgences in shtick as his flamboyant
namesake. Separately, Dana Igvy, Keren Berger, and Anat Waxman are a bit dull
as their namesakes, but they click as an ensemble.
Fox and co-writer Eli Bijaoui manage to sidestep
the worst possible clichés in the third act, but they are not afraid of a
little sentimentality either. It is a pleasant but hardly essentially look at
contemporary Israel’s inclusiveness. Recommended for fans of Fox’s previous box
office hits and Babydaddy from Scissor Sisters (who wrote the “Song for Anat”),
Cupcakes opens this Friday (3/27) in
New York, at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: Eytan Fox, Israeli Cinema