If you were served your favorite meal -- fresh Maine lobster, say, or a perfectly cooked filet -- but it came with sides that were overcooked, straight-from-a-can, school cafeteria-grade mush, could you still call it a great meal? Can you overlook substandard fare when it's paired with an exceptional entree?
The way you answer that may help you decide if you'd like the new Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu movie, Biutiful. The main course (Javier Bardem) is a beautiful hunk of meat, but it's surrounded by a pile of crap.
Bardem has been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Uxbal, a world-weary lowlife with a heart of gold. He's dying of cancer. His estranged, mentally ill, drug-addled wife and mother of their two children is sleeping around. (And, Uxbal's brother is among her lovers.) His brother is a lowlife, too -- but minus the heart of gold. Uxbal is dealing with a ruthless (and gay) Chinese couple that runs a sweatshop. He seems to be in charge of some Africans who sell the goods made in the sweatshirt on the gritty streets of Barcelona. There's a woman (who is she?) who's given Uxbal some magic tchotchkes to give his kids before he dies. There's a dead father who's alluded to throughout the film, and there's some eerie action that takes place in funeral homes. (Uxbal can apparently commune with the dead.) Even eerier action takes place in a topless bar.
If I'm not doing a good job summarizing the plot, perhaps it's because the plot was incomprehensible.
The bleak scenery is a total downer. The Barcelona tourism board should consider suing Inarritu for making the city look like a waste dump. Antoni Gaudi's Barcelona, this is not.
Bardem does his best. He's feisty, tender, angry, raging and ultimately resigned. But, he can't, in this critic's opinion, compensate for the crazy, mixed-up stew in which he's the main ingredient. Skip it.