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Arts & Culture

Ugly Me / Pretendiendo

Barbara Mori seduces the unsuspecting Marcelo Mazzarello in Ugly Me (Arcangelo Entertainment)

The Chilean title of the film is Pretendiendo or Pretending but the American title seems to be trying to cash in on the popularity of TV's Ugly Betty with its choice of Ugly Me , and the emphasis on the notion of a pretty actress frumping up. Amanda (Mexican telenovela star Barbara Mori) is a beautiful architect who accidentally discovers that her boyfriend is having an affair with her best friend. This prompts her to lose all faith in the opposite sex as she moves to a small town and disguises herself as a plump, buck-toothed married woman with two kids. She figures if she looks unattractive, her boss will take her seriously while other men won't even notice her. Now she feels confident she can start a new life at a new job.


Barbara Mori and Marcelo Mazzarello find an unlikely connection in Ugly Me (Arcangelo Entertainment)

But at her new office she meets the chauvinistic ladies man Marcelo (Argentine actor Marcelo Mazzarello). Amanda takes offense at his smug bravado, and the way he dismisses her solely based on her appearance. As he brags about conquests and his irresistible charms, Amanda cooks up a scheme to take him down a few pegs. She creates a sexy alter ego for herself, and as the gorgeous Helena she sets out to wrap Marcelo around her little finger. But at work, Marcelo starts to confide in Amanda, which ends up giving Helena all the ammunition she needs to bring him down. But then something strange happens - Amanda starts to see a vulnerable side to Marcelo, and Marcelo starts to lose interest in Helena because he's growing fond of Amanda. Oh what fools these mortals be!

Filmmaker Claudio Dabed teams with American co-writer Franklin McDonald to create a lively script about the battle of the sexes. The film follows a satisfyingly predictable sitcom formula for most of its 100-plus minutes with Marcelo infuriating Amanda with his sexist attitudes. But then Helena mounts a surprisingly cruel revenge - involving cross-dressing humiliation for Marcelo as well as the threat of castration. Helena's extreme choices make it hard for us to believe that Amanda and Marcelo could have any kind of future together. Yet the film wants us to believe that as Amanda, she really has grown fond of Marcelo.

But Dabed navigates his rocky romantic terrain with considerable skill. He somehow manages to move from broad comedy to warm insights, from cruel revenge to touching sentiment. He's helped in large degree by his two leads. Mori dazzles as the femme fatale Helena and manages to hide her considerable beauty as the plain Amanda. In her fat suit, she displays a flair for physical comedy, and throughout she reveals a savvy sense of feminism. She delivers a smart, sexy performance and in the opening scene, a sweet sense of revenge. Mazzarello spoofs the Latin lover with great aplomb. Looking a bit like Italian comedy star Roberto Benigni, he is part sexy Latin lover and part impish clown. When he emerges in drag and lip-synching a romantic song, he surprises us with his physical comedy skills. Even when Marcelo is at his most offensively chauvinistic, Mazzarello finds a way to undercut it with a ridiculous sense of exaggeration. And in a scene with Amanda's "fake" kids, Mazzarello lets us see a sweet side of Marcelo and from that moment on we know that Amanda will not be able to maintain her disdain for him.

Ugly Me (rated R for sexual content and in Spanish with English subtitles) gives a bit of an edge to what begins as a formula romantic comedy. Dabed takes his light-hearted tale of love and duplicity and lets it grow just a little dark before he pulls it back into the sunlight. The result is a film that feels a little smarter and warmer than such recent Hollywood comic fare as Made of Honor and Baby Mama . But the main appeal of the film are the sexy charms of Barbara Mori and the comic skill of Mazzarello.


Companion viewing: He's a Woman, She's a Man (Hong Kong) ; She's the Man; La Mujer de Mi Hermano