Film Review: Cupcakes (★★★)

Cupcakes_USPoster_HiResBoasting a film career that spans a considerable 25 years, director Eytan Fox has developed a reputation as a multi-faceted filmmaker. He’s dabbled in comedy, drama, romance, thriller and war genres, refusing to be boxed in. Yet despite his established versatility, few would have anticipated his latest venture – a bright, bubbly musical appropriately titled Cupcakes.

Cupcakes is the story of a group of friends in Tel Aviv who receive the opportunity of a lifetime. At the beggining of the film, we see them at their annual gathering in the home of Anat (a dissatisfied wife and baker), to watch the popular Eurovision Song Contest. Their excitement soon turns to shame, as the Israeli representative leaves a lot to be desired. Disappointed in their country’s performance, the atmosphere is exacerbated by the group’s general unhappiness, especially Anat’s, whose marriage is struggling. In an effort to cheer her up, they create their own impromptu song and record it on a mobile phone. Soon enough, the video goes viral and they are selected to be the next year’s representative for Israel. The prospect is a daunting one, but after some coaxing by their ringleader – a vivacious gay man named Ofer – they embark on this unique experience of glam and glitter.

For those who are unaware, the annual Eurovision Song Contest is a roving singing competition in Europe, where representatives from the various nations compete for glory performing original songs. Each country votes on their competitors and the winners sometimes go on to international fame (e.g. Celine Dion and Abba). As a result, it’s keenly followed by Europeans – and even further afield – and is known to be one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world. But it’s also known for something less impressive – its gaudy celebration of kitsch.

Understanding the concept of Eurovision is important in understanding Fox’s approach to the film. It begs you to leave your cynicism at the door and simply embrace its celebration of music, love and friendship. As our motley crew (compellingly acted by Dana Ivgy, Keren Berger, Yael Bar Zohar, Efrat Dor, Anat Waxman and Ofer Schechter) enter this strange world of glossy pop stardom, there’s much to enjoy in its catchy tunes, outrageous costumes and candy-colored art direction. Those paying attention will even notice the color coding of each band member, reminiscent of the Spice Girls’ branded personalities.
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In its favor, Cupcakes strives to be better than a mere Spice World-esque parody, as its screenplay addresses serious topics like homophobia, feminism and society’s undervaluing of the arts. Though the character development is too schematic to fully explore all of this dramatic potential, it does leave a noteworthy impression of the benefits of music. Through music, all the characters (only one of whom was a musician to begin with) find their lives enriched by the end, and Fox’s lively direction successfully transfers that same feeling to the audience.

Critics will surely – and correctly – argue that the film is a tad formulaic. But this quibble seems insignificant in light of its genuinely entertaining storyline and winning cast. Cupcakes is a sweet confection indeed.

Cupcakes releases in select theaters March 27, 2015.