Head Over Heels / De Pernas Pro Ar- 04 September, 2011
Head over Heels is a chick-flick comedy set firmly in the tradition of Sex and the City, Bridget Jones diary and the like; but it uses its Latin American setting to highlight a slightly different set of trials for the modern Brazilian woman.
Workaholic Alice regularly neglects her family life in favour of her entrepreneurial ambitions. One morning her husband decides to have a break from her company. Combine that with the tip-off that he is playing away from home during this trial separation and the scene is set for a story of early middle-age sexuality, self-discovery and the pressures of the modern woman juggling love and work.
In trying to defend the strength of her marriage, Alice sets out all the positive factors and finds no excuse for her husband’s unhappiness:
“João and I have a healthy child, our own apartment; my career is doing well, his too. We have a good car, a trustworthy maid. We travel abroad once a year. Summing up, we lead a wonderful life. What might our marriage need?”
“Sex,” replies Alice’s mother, who is not one to be shy about the older woman’s carnal needs.
This is an allegation which Alice rejects, citing life’s other preoccupation as more important without question, though she is often far too busy with work to play devoted mother to her son at times. After dropping him off at a soccer match she gives him some empty words of encouragement:
“I wanna see loads of goals.” To which Paulinho replies with: “But Mum, I’m the goalie!”
She is forced to change tack with her life somewhat when a mix up between two deliveries cause her to shower the desk in a Dragon’s Den scenario with the wrong kind of toys. Rather than her new line in Happy Earthworm toys, the businessmen are treated to a pile of fumbling, wobbling and vibrating objects which effectively end her reputation.
This causes a chain of events and a transformation for the better as she meets the enlightened and liberated woman, Marcela, and goes into business with her, taking their sex shop, SexDelícia, from strength to strength, by gradually admitting and overcoming her hang-ups and becoming less of a sexual square:
“Sometimes I think that the whole world is an orgy which I was left out of.”
While I can definitely see people giggling along to the best bits in the cinema, some jokes are a little puerile and rely heavily on the same premise: that sex is inherently funny, especially when people you don’t expect to like it do actually like it. So we are bombarded by images of an old woman casting aside her zimmer frame to ride a huge phallic bucking bronco, old men going to erotic trade events and other jokes which wouldn’t be out of place in the most puerile of American college comedies. Some of the jokes even feel distinctively in the Carry On vein, like the cheeky trombone flare as Alice’s son leans over to check out some woman’s chest; but many scenes would not have escaped the censors of previous decades so easily. Groaning noises abound, especially in the first half of the film as Alice tries to achieve her first actual orgasm, culminating in a surreal dream sequence where she’s flying along down a rollercoaster sat next to a man in a rabbit costume.
In places you can see that this film wants to raise itself above the material shallowness of Sex in the City — instead of clambering and obsessing about shoes, handbags and the perfect apartment, Alice eventually learns to appreciate her husband and family, over the pulls of career — but there are still some morally dubious aspects which I noticed as a bleeding heart male feminist. Alice very quickly accepts that her low libido was the cause of a large chunk of her marriage problems, and so is very quick to forgive her husband for sleeping around — she takes ultimate responsibility that her frigidness excused his infidelity and simply welcomes him back once he decides that he’d rather stay married. What a great guy! What a liberated woman!
Funnily enough, one of the most dodgy scenes is actually quite audacious. Once SexDelícia becomes a big brand, one of the company reps visits the jungle, on an Ann Summers party-style mission, to deliver a suitcase of brightly coloured knobbly objects to what looks like an uncontacted native tribe.
Head Over Heels may well be a successful exponent of chick-flick concepts which have thrived elsewhere, and it is important to localise such characters in order that people can really relate to them. But this means that it also fails where most of this landfill comedy fails: its lack of depth means that it can only show a very limited portrait of what a woman should be.
Head Over Heels is showing as part of the 3rd Brazilian Film Festival of London. Find out more about the festival here.