I found 20 Centimeters on my netflix queue a few weeks ago and wasn’t sure why it was there, but the summary sounded intriguing enough to bump it up. I didn’t really know anything about it aside from what netflix told me, but I’m glad I took the risk because it turned out to be a pretty cool movie. The story follows Marieta (Mónica Cervera) a trans sex worker who is saving up for reassignment surgery and trying to break in to the regular workforce. Unfortunately, her roommate Tomás (Miguel O’Dogherty), whom she supports financially, has made a bad investment with her money, and her friend and neighbor is in trouble with some mob, and her dreamy new boyfriend is obsessed with the huge penis she wants to be rid of. Through it all, her narcolepsy causes her to fall asleep at inopportune times, slipping into intense fantasies where she’s a musical star.
Ok, high concept, I KNOW, but somehow 20 Centimeters works despite its narrative busy-ness. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s colorful, and a little kooky. On paper this sounds like it could be depressing or exploitative but there is a balance of tone and subplots that presents a complex, human story. The central figure of Marieta grounds the film, with a fantastic and impressive performance by Mónica Cervera, who helps create a realistic character within this over the top premise. She is charismatic and sympathetic, and impressively changeable in her many dream-roles. Marieta’s experiences (good and bad) as a transwoman are explored, but she is not wholly defined by that identity. I found the general investigation of lower-class life in urban Spain compelling in itself, with a range of characters popping in and out of Marieta’s day to day.
As a musical 20 Centimeters is highly referential, pulling from Jacques Demy, Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly, and others in an eclectic offering of musical numbers. Some are really ridiculous and fluffy, some are sexy and romantic, and some are just kind of weird. I actually felt like there were too many songs, which is rarely a problem for me, but I was getting so interested in the characters and some of these irrelevant musical numbers took away from the story and certainly hindered its flow. Also their quality was a little hit and miss, but some I did truly love. I’ll admit I was enjoying this movie anyway, but then the final number happens as Marieta is finally getting her surgery, and for several days I only wanted to listen to Queen and dance around majestically because maybe things will work out in life. And it’s just really great.
Pair This Movie With: The musical-inside-the-protagonist’s-head thing of course made me think of Chicago, which would be a fun double feature. Alternatively, for another musical comedy-drama about a talented trans person there is the fantastic Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The film’s tone and themes are reminiscent of Almodóvar, so one of his films would be a good pairing too.by