Having just discovered that she's pregnant, voice-over actress Pepa Marcos is dumped by her womanising lover Iván, whose disturbed wife Lucia sets out to exact revenge on Pepa, just as her son Carlos his fiancée Marisa arrive to view Pepa's apartment.
Pedro Almodóvar's first mainstream hit was loosely based on Jean Cocteau's 1930 play, La Voix Humaine, although it also borrowed liberally from the works of Spanish dramatists Mihura and Jardiel Poncela, from Dorothy Parker's `Anything Goes' essays, and from such Hollywood genre pictures as Jean Negulesco's How to Marry a Millionaire, Stanley Donen's Funny Face and Billy Wilder's The Apartment.
However, traces of George Cukor, Douglas Sirk, Nicholas Ray and Alfred Hitchcock are also readily evident in this gleeful melee of attitudes and styles whose audacity and vibrancy owes as much to a lingering sense of post-Franco exhilaration as to the `couldn't care less' posture of the pasota generation that had informed Almodóvar's earlier features, including his debut, Pepi, Luci, Bom And The Other Girls, which had been completed largely thanks to Carmen Maura.
But for all its playful postmodernism, this is also a satirical treatise on the crisis of Spanish masculinity in the late 1980s. One of the main reasons why these women have been driven to the verge is that virtually every male character is portrayed as weak. Iván is ageing and inconstant; Carlos is ineffectual; the cabby (Guillermo Montesinos) is dependable, but camp; and Candela's boyfriend is a crazed Shiite terrorist.
But, in keeping with the classic woman's picture format, the female characters are surprisingly strong. Pepa, for example, is linked throughout with Joan Crawford - whom she dubs in a scene from Johnny Guitar - and although she's initially distraught at the prospect of having a child alone, she eventually takes control of her own desires and destiny.
Photographed in riotous colours by Jose Luis Alcaine, this is very much an ensemble farce. But Maura is superb as the resilient Pepa, whose accidental emancipation causes as much chaos as her drugged gazpacho. Almodóvar also excels, whether parodying TV commercials or sustaining the frantic pace and his £700,000 movie went on to gross over £3.5 million worldwide.
Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
Released: 01 July 2002
Dubbed or subtitled options.
An explosion of garish colour, wacky detail and surreal complications, Almodovar’s very funny, urban comedy overflows with the unexpected. See it!
Reviewed by David Parkinson