In Spanish director Álex De La Iglesia’s My Big Night, the advance taping of a New Year’s Eve special turns into a manic farce of schlubs and monsters, professional one-upmanship and assassination. Steadicam shots crisscross the studio space, fluidly switching direction to track characters and subplots-in-progress—but lest De La Iglesia’s typical confidence with the camera imply something highfalutin is afoot, let it be known that these subplots mostly involve stolen semen and that, occasionally, the gliding camera will dip just in time to catch a character hitting his head on a stuffed giraffe’s penis. Grotesque and often gruesome, De La Iglesia’s films sympathize with freaks and weirdos while painting the world as a carnival sideshow where everybody is worth mocking, even if they’re too vain to know it. More often than not, they end with falling apart or going up in flames or both, but My Big Night, pitched in a state of perpetual frenzy, whiffs out in its ending.
Set over one night, with Spain’s ongoing unemployment crisis as a broader backdrop, My Big Night finds its audience surrogate in roly-poly Jose (Pepón Nieto), called in by a temp agency after three months of waiting to fill in for an extra who got his skull caved in by a camera jib. No one really wants to be at the studio, but everybody needs the work, even as a protest rages outside against the corrupt, anti-union management. Inside this pressure cooker are aging pop star Alphonso (singer Raphael; for intended effect, imagine Neil Diamond), who glowers in his Death Star-styled dressing room, torturing underlings; his adopted Russian son Yuri (Carlos Areces), who is covered in flop sweat and itchy hives; over-sexed hunk Adanne (Mario Casas) and his tiny, scheming agent, Perotti (Tomás Pozzi); the “Chinaman” (Enrique Villén), a Marty Feldman-eyed veteran of countless New Year’s Eve tapings who nonchalantly makes his way around the studio via ventilation shafts; and countless other idiots and schemers.
Interminable musical numbers are performed and things go wrong, from the arrival of a Cape Fear-esque stalker to a big-screen backdrop accidentally running clips from Ilsa, She-Wolf Of The SS. And while more and more characters become involved in a bid to steal a vial of Adanne’s most precious bodily fluid, Jose is stuck at a table with the young, flirtatious Paloma (Blanca Suárez), reputed to be surrounded by an aura of deadly bad luck. De La Iglesia is one of those directors who always gives off the impression that’s he’s having the time of his life, and he packs My Big Night with exaggerated angles, pops of super-saturated color, and pop-culture winks. But ultimately, what he’s doing is building a fire, stacking everything for destructive potential. And given how much potential fuel he gathers in My Big Night—from tabloid culture to his country’s continuing woes—it comes as a disappointment that the movie never bursts out into a conflagration, ending with an overstretched and largely uninspired series of over-tidied resolutions.