The Flower of My Secret June 9, 2015
Pedro Almodóvar can't deal with the middle ground. He likes to speak only in the high or the low. He likes to drench his films in vibrant, Sirkian style that has to decide whether it's dressing an emotionally tumultuous drama or a light-speeded comedy.
So his career, beginning in the 1980s, has been long but equipped with as many misses as hits. Almodóvar's best find a startling unison between style and substance, deliberately artificial atmosphere turning more flaming as the goings get rough; his worst still look great, but sometimes ramble, never going anywhere and never giving the style a place to grab onto. The red trench coats, red lipstick, and red pumps of Almodóvar's distinctly feminine characters are buried in catty conversations, Joan Collins schlock tears, and as such leave more of an image than an impression.
The Flower of My Secret is a quintessential example of an Almodóvar miss, showcasing his tirelessly exciting aesthetic but distant in its ability to capture the imagination. Heavyweights like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Broken Embraces rip our throats out with their passion toward screwball zeal/Technicolor noir cynicism. But lightweights, The Flower of My Secret being a prime example, don't allow us to think about anything besides how scrumptious everything looks. There is nothing wrong with an obsession toward visual materialization, but one can only stare at a painting before they want to move on to something that knocks them off their jaded feet.
Marisa Paredes portrays Leo Marcías, a bestselling romance novelist who writes under the pseudonym Amanda Gris. Leo, though, doesn't take pride in her work like Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts. She hates it, desperate to be taken seriously but unable to publish anything meaningful thanks to a paralyzing authorial contract. It’s becoming impossible to write such fantastical material, considering her husband (Imanol Arias) has no interest in solving marital problems and her closest friends seem ready to betray her at any waking moment.
Finding no other way to fix the cracks that rough up her life, she decides to take a job at local newspaper El Pais as a literature critic. Well aware that she will have to eventually attack her own book, Leo finds unsettling excitement in the idea of publicly diminishing her work after years of gloating.
The Flower of My Secret’s story sounds ready for the screwball comedy treatment, but in execution does its plot rather feel haphazard and messy, taking more time to ignite itself through speedy small talk than with conversation that actually moves the plot forward. Consider the film opens with a false lead. We think we’re about to watch the tragic story of a middle-aged woman losing her son in a motorcycle accident, but it turns out to be a organ donation center training video in production. Scenes like this are amusing, but they don’t go anywhere.
As a whole, The Flower of My Secret has no problem when it comes to being compulsively watchable. Cohesiveness, identity, authenticity — those are the issues that make the film so unmistakably flawed. The characters spend a whole lot of time gabbing and tearing up, but we never find ourselves entwined in their conversations, moved by their sudden outbursts of emotion.
Almodóvar, though, is incapable of making a movie that isn’t stunning in its artistic vision. Photographically and directorially, The Flower of My Secret is visionary and eye-poppingly deliberate in its color; missing is interest that makes its look have meaning. But Parades gives a wonderful performance and Almodóvar sustains maturity. So there are diamonds to be found in the candy colored rough. Just not many. C+