Review: BARRIO UNIVERSITARIO, Not A Good Comedy, But A Nice Try

There are many examples of what we could call a New Chilean Film Comedy in the past few years. It's clear why it's the genre that is creating the most recent 'waves' and changes coming from different directors, as usually comedies are the best selling genre when we talk about Chilean films at the box office; they are the most profitable and at the same time among the cheapest to make.

For example, we have Nicolás López, most recently known for his English-speaking debut Aftershock, released in theaters and VOD a couple months back, who revolutionized low-budget comedy with his series of 'F**k My...' trilogy of pictures -- F**k my Life, F**k my Wedding, F**k my Family -- about a loser who ends up in the biggest problems because of his troubles at establishing and maintaining a relationship.

Another recent example is Sebastián Badilla, a teenager who has managed to star in, produce, and even direct two full-length feature films that have been hits in Chile's summer. El Babysitter, released this year, and last year's El Limpiapiscinas (The Poolcleaner) appeal more to the 'tween audience that is slowly starting to see more mature things.

Last year also saw the biggest box office hit in the history of cinema in Chile. Produced by Fox, the comedy Stefan vs. Kramer starred a Chilean comedian who is very famous because he imitates characters drawn from well-known political and entertainment figures of Chile to perfection. He's the clear example of a TV performer who made the jump to the movies, and he will most surely do it again.


What I haven't told you is that all the movies I've mentioned so far are crap. They are unfunny and mediocre pieces of filmmaking, done for the quick buck and without any laughs whatsoever. Now, here we have a new film, Barrio Universitario (University Neighbourhood), produced by Fábula, the same producing company that gave us films like the Oscar nominated No and others from the same director (Pablo Larraín), like Tony Manero, as well as the latest Willem Dafoe vehicle 4:44 Last Day on Earth. Let me explain: This movie isn't good either, but I think it's a step in the right direction.

The film starts with a long-take that works at the same time as it doesn't, where we see our four main characters being chased to have the famous Chilean ritual of 'mechoneo', where the graduates from higher courses publicly embarrass the newbies who are entering the university, something like entering a fraternity or a sect, but just every time that you matriculate into a university ... believe me, it's awful. There we get to know how they attend an education centre called 'Michael J. Fox' (the ads for the place feature a guy wearing a red jacket, a la Marty McFly in Back to the Future) that is among the worst universities in Chile, as its public and most of the people who attend are poor, as are our protagonists.

There is where we find our first problem. The movie is quick to make jokes and assumptions about poor people in general, as well as those who come from the countryside. In a lame succession of jokes, our protagonist tries to impress the female love interest from the better and private university with a series of jokes along the lines of, 'I was so poor that I had to eat once a year', akin to 'Yo Mamma' jokes, but even less funny. Nevertheless, there is a charm, an intention to have some laughs, some visual gags that work, some that don't and there's an ambivalence that is clear from the origins of this particular film.


The performers, the director and the writers of the film come from the same place: a TV show called El Club de la Comedia (Comedy Club), that mixes stand up comedy with sketches, and here's where the whole structure of the film becomes even weaker. Stand-alone scenes are funny on their own but make no sense when compared to each other, and it's not like in the Monty Python movies, where the sketchy nature of some scenes was evident, but because there was something beyond that, the scenes had a weight and a reason to be when placed in context with those that followed. Here, it's quite the contrary; you can cut this movie up, splice it with the stand-up comedy bits of any other TV episode of the show, and maybe have the best damn season of the show.

The comedy is inherently basic, but there is dumb basic and then there's Comedy 101, and here it approaches more the second part of the whole concept of basic comedy. It's basic on terms that we've seen this jokes and the situations play before, and when our team of friends is suddenly in a competition to make a robot against the richer university, we know that they're going to make it to the finals and that there will be speeches and turnarounds, loyalty and betrayal, yadda-yadda, bim-bam-boom, usual 80's and 90's comedy things that just now are appearing here. That's why I think this is a step in the right direction, a nice try, something to hold as a stepping stone, a incredible step forward from all the crap that has been released.

It's not good, but we've had so much worse that I kinda recommend it. It's playing at many Chilean theaters starting today (July 25) and, hey, we all need to disconnect our brains once in a while.
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