Sure, you can call them “soap operas,” but Latin American cultures have a peculiar relationship with telenovelas that can’t be adequately expressed in the English language. In fact, sometimes it even seems as if we take our trademark melodramatic social cues direct from Venevision’s latest primetime hit. But how would a telenovela’s characteristic emotional sensationalism and thickly-laid intrigue actually go over in the real world? And what would it be like to live in the unlikely, extravagant reality portrayed season after season in the novelas? This seems to be the driving conceit behind the new film Ana Maria in Novela Land, directed by Georgina Garcia Riedel (How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer) and starring Edy Ganem (Devious Maids), Luis Guzmán and the late, great Elizabeth Peña in her last performance before her untimely passing last year.
In the film’s slightly improbable plot line, everyday barrio girl Ana Maria (Edy Ganem) finds herself frustrated by her humdrum existence and wishes desperately for a novela-worthy life, complete with a galán in shining armor. One day this magically happens (apparently thanks to a lightening bolt) and she finds herself living out a perpetual novela that is somehow broadcast into her family’s living room. Ah, and the novela’s protagonist, Ariana, is jettisoned into the real world to replace her. Presumably each learns something new about their reality and returns safely to the status quo with knowledge gained.
Yes, it’s a bit of a made-to-order plot, and telenovelas are kind of an easy target, but the trailer hits all the necessary buttons and comes off as pretty funny — not to mention the stellar cast that by all indicators brings a little actorly heft to the screen. Seeing the telenovela star Ariana dramatically slapping a real world police officer only to get tazed into submission is one high point in a series of more or less well-executed gags.
Ana Maria in Novela Land opens in theaters on February 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, Houston, and Miami