Camp is a delicate thing. Use too little, and your comedy comes off flat and wan; use too much and the audience’s gag reflex kicks in. Miss Tacuarembó, the feature debut of Uruguayan director Martín Sastre, is the cinematic equivalent of standing between two cannons firing giant balls of glitter and confetti at your head. Some people may enjoy the feeling.
Others, though, will find this relentlessly cheery, cutesy movie to be a bit much. Alternating between past and present, the film tells the story of Natalia (Natalia Oreiro), a 30-year-old beauty queen with aspirations of stardom who is wasting her time working with her gay best friend Carlos (Diego Reinhold) at a Vatican-sanctioned Christian theme park.
In frequent flashbacks, we see Natalia and Carlos as children (played by Sofia Silvera and Mateo Capo) growing up in a small town in the 1980s. She has a pet lamb named Madonna. Raised under strict Catholic teachings, the two kids frequently run afoul of the school’s headmistress (also played by Oreiro, under distracting old-age makeup), who is so rigid she makes Carrie White’s mom seem like a liberal hippie.
Did I mention Miss Tacuarembó is a musical? Frequently, the characters burst into song and dance, sometimes covering familiar tunes (What a Feeling from Flashdance is the film’s mantra) and other times performing catchy, relentlessly upbeat originals, including one ode to the power of faith by a guitar-strumming nun who scampers through the fields and walks on water.
There is a subplot in the movie involving Natalia’s estranged mother, who has gone on a reality-TV show (hosted by Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma) where she hopes to be reunited with her daughter. The film grows loopier and more dramatic as it goes along, and Sastre doesn’t seem to have anything to say other than mean people are bad and religion is OK, as long as you don’t use it to control other people. By the time Jesus Christ descends from the heavens for a musical number, Miss Tacuarembó has crossed over from the tolerable to the insufferable. This movie makes Glee seem like late-night History Channel fodder.
Cast: Natalia Oreiro, Diego Reinhold, Sofia Silvera, Mateo Capo, Rossy de Palma, Boris Bakst.
Writer-director: Martín Sastre. Based on the novel by Dani Umpi.
Producer: Oscar Marcos Azar.
Running time: 98 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.