sun 03/07/2022

Cupcakes | reviews, news & interviews



Delightful, affirmatively camp comedy musical from Israel

No stage fright here: 'Anat's Bakery' faces the UniverSong judges

There might seem to be a world of difference between Israeli director Eytan Fox’s last film, the coming-out-of-grief, intimate drama Yossi, and his new movie, the delicious, prove-what-you-can-do comedy musical Cupcakes. But both are about moving towards a better place, and overcoming the obstacles encountered along the way, with a little help from your friends.

Cupcakes is about camaraderie as much as anything else, in this case a group of neighbours who have a tradition of getting together every year to watch UniverSong (as close to Eurovision as it comes – we presume that the latter name was not allowed for use). They see it as a way of indulging in silliness, a memory of “long-gone days of innocence” (Fox has spoken of his own memories of such experiences). This year they’re meeting at the flat of Anat (Anat Waxman), who runs the local cookie bakery, and is feeling down because her husband’s just left her.

It’s all visually sunny, and as cheerfully camp as it comes

But she’s in the company of five friends, a very varied bunch, all younger than her. There’s Ofer (Ofer Schecter, pictured below right), an exuberantly gay primary school teacher who seems to spend a lot of his classes belting out disco numbers in drag, and shy blogger Keren (Keren Berger); Efrat (Efrat Dor), a lesbian singer-guitarist who’s not exactly pulling in the audiences, Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar), an ex-Miss Israel turned lawyer who’s involved with her rather exploitative boss, and Dana (Dana Ivgy), assistant to the country’s minister of culture, but living her life less for herself than to please her Orthodox father.

When Efrat starts strumming her guitar in a riff of consolation for Anat, Ofer dons another outrageous wig, and soon they’ve come up with a medley, “It’ll All Work Out”, which is far more natural and human than the manufactured pop they’re watching on UniverSong. Cutting a longish story short, Ofer, who’s never a stand-back kind of guy, sends off the recording from his mobile to Israel’s selection jury for the next year’s competition, giving the group the name “Anat’s Bakery”, and they’re away.

Except that they’re not, at least at first, because he hasn’t told any of his friends (the ladies come to confront him, pictured below left), so the first they hear of it is when the announcement that they’ve been selected is on the news. There wouldn’t be a movie if they didn’t eventually come round to the idea (each for her own reason), and then Anat’s Bakery goes through a musical make-over process, supposedly to tighten up their act; they're instructed by a satirically awful artillery of music biz types who are determined to turn them into a standard pop performance.

In the process everything of the genuine, heart-felt emotion that had made them stand out in the first place risks being removed. When the sextet rebel against such treatment, they’re on their own to find the funds to get them to UniverSong in Paris. Of course, they do, and it’s on to the city of love, with Ofer attracting all sorts of glances in his outfit of tux and tutu (main picture).

Fox and his co-writer Eli Bijaoui have made a film that, at a little less than 90 minutes, manages nevertheless to give each of his lead characters a fully convincing surrounding life story. Prime among them is Ofer’s relationship with his closeted boyfriend Asi (Alon Levi); they must have become lovers during their service in the Israeli army (a hark-back to Fox’s first film, Yossi & Jagger). One of the reasons the latter can’t come out is that he’s the poster boy for the family hummus dynasty, which just happens to be the traditional sponsor of the Israeli UniverSong entry. Each of the other ladies has her own life detailed, including Keren’s attempts to get over her lisp; her blogging narrative voice helps the story move along, with elements of more contemplative commentary, which gives extra depth. Even the minor characters – among them the comically capricious lady minister of culture, crowing on about l'amour, who’s Dana’s boss – somehow emerge fully rounded.

Musically it’s a gem, and it’s all visually sunny, and as cheerfully camp as it comes, leading up to a glorious street party song and dance finale. If this movie was made in English, it would find a far wider audience (making you wonder about a remake), but it’s exactly the detail of Tel Aviv life that means Fox avoids the formulaic. No apologies for a fourth star here – Cupcakes is a winner.

Eytan Fox presents Cupcakes with Q&As in London April 27, 28

Overleaf, watch the trailer for Cupcakes



They see it as a way of indulging in silliness, a memory of 'long-gone days of innocence'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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