A Crime Story with a Musical Twist

Last Updated: June 17, 2024By
A Crime Story with a Musical Twist

Anglo-progressives and US liberals might fret about whether certain stories are “theirs to tell”. But that’s not something French filmmaker Jacques Audiard worries about. With boldness and flair, he dives into this unusual yet captivating musical melodrama of crime and gender, set in the vibrant backdrop of Mexico. Imagine a thriller by Amat Escalante, but with the musical flair of Lin-Manuel Miranda and a touch of Almodovar’s style.

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Meet the Characters

Argentinian trans actor Karla Sofia Gascon stars as Juan “Manitas” Del Monte, a fearsome and ruthless cartel boss in Mexico. Manitas is married to Jessi (played by Selena Gomez) and they have two young kids. Manitas becomes fascinated by a high-profile murder trial where a clearly guilty defendant is acquitted thanks to his brilliant lawyer, Rita (Zoe Saldana). Nearing 40, Rita is secretly miserable, having spent her life defending unrepentant criminals who get richer while she earns meager fees.

A Deal She Can’t Refuse

Manitas kidnaps Rita and offers her a deal she can’t refuse: a one-time job for an enormous amount of money, enough for her to retire. The job? Manitas wants to become a woman, and Rita has to manage every detail of this transformation (which Jessi must never find out about). Rita must find a surgeon, fake Manitas’s death, get new passports, secure a fancy Swiss home for the widow and kids, and create Manitas’s new identity as Emilia Perez. Desperate for money and respect, Rita agrees. And, in a quirky twist, everyone keeps breaking into song!

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Songs and Surprises

At first, the Broadway-style choreography and sudden singing might feel odd, especially when Rita confronts a grumpy Tel Aviv surgeon, accusing him of transphobia, and they all start singing about “sex change operations”. But soon enough, you get used to it. The story zips along, and there’s even a funny moment when Emilia, missing her kids too much, brings Jessi and the children back to Mexico City. She introduces herself as Manitas’s cousin and decides to care for the children like a new, fun auntie. It’s like a gangster version of Mrs. Doubtfire or a more dangerous Mrs. Featherbottom from TV’s Arrested Development.

A New Mission

But Emilia’s journey doesn’t end there. Filled with guilt over the thousands of young people “disappeared” by the cartels in Mexico, Emilia sets up a charity to find their graves and give closure to grieving parents. She becomes a celebrated figure, but an ominous reckoning is on the horizon.

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Final Thoughts

Complaining about plot holes in a story like this seems pointless. For instance, once Rita leaves, someone else must be secretly managing Emilia’s new life, but we never learn who. Audiard brings his signature ambition, energy, and style to the film. The musical numbers might serve as a clever distraction from the story’s contrivances. Nonetheless, Gascon shines, delivering a performance with regal flair.

Overall, this film is a wild ride, blending crime, drama, and musical elements into an unforgettable experience.

A Crime Story with a Musical Twist

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