Last time around, we discussed the harrowing (and excellent) documentary El Vecino Alemán, which used the true story of Adolf Eichmann — one of the key figures in masterminding the Holocaust that fled to Argentina and lived a life of anonymity for over a decade — to reflect on the horrors of war, the long-lasting effects of displacement, and on our own ever-fluctuating relationships with our personal histories. It’s heavy stuff, but it is the exact kind of thing you need to delve into every once in a while to counterbalance the insipid love stories and kitschy erotic romps. Because here at The Bubble we’re nothing if not eclectic, we’re taking a sharp left turn this week — one that will take us back into the familiar and comfortable arms of our old friend, the Trending Now section of Netflix, and the many bewildering treasures it offers.
This week we’ve landed on Toc Toc, a 2017 Spanish slapstick comedy that was recently added to Netflix’s streaming lineup. The film is about a group of people afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder who all happen to be booked for a session with a certain psychologist at the same hour. The psychologist, of course, just happens to be delayed, leading to a series of wacky hijinks, misunderstandings, personality clashes, and mile-a-minute dialogue. I don’t think it would have been possible for us to find something more tonally, thematically, or aesthetically different than our last feature if we had tried.
If you find the premise familiar, it might be because Toc Toc has had many years of tremendous success in its original format as a stage play; written by Laurent Baffie, the play first opened in Paris in 2005, then expanded to several countries, languages and venues, including the storied Multiteatro on Avenida Corrientes right here in Buenos Aires. Given the work’s staggering success, it makes all the sense in the world that it was adapted as a feature film, though I would’ve loved to see an Argentine big-screen version of it rather than the Spanish version we got. This is not meant as a diss on the Spanish production, of course, but the decade-plus I’ve spent living here has acclimated me to the beats and nuances of Argentine humor, and there are several moments in the film where I laughed out loud just thinking about the different ways a joke would’ve played if it had been delivered in a porteño accent and punctuated with a well-placed “LPMQTRMP.”
As you would expect from a stage-play-to-film adaptation, Toc Toc relies heavily on dialogue. Perhaps a bit too much — director Vicente Villanueva isn’t given much to play with in terms of visuals, but, thanks to some smart production design, he does an adequate job at crafting a good-looking feature. This is important when you consider the fact that a sizeable portion of the film takes place in a single location. Also, Toc Toc is staunchly classicist in its execution, meaning this isn’t the film to watch if you’re looking for something groundbreaking or avant-garde; rather, it harkens back to the golden age of screwball comedies, where the humor is derived largely from misunderstandings, misreadings, and misinterpretations. In fact, the film comes very close to feeling hokey and old-fashioned in parts, but it is rescued by its overall charm and disposition.
The key selling point for this movie is easily its cast of characters. This film would be a somewhat irritating, or perhaps even disturbing, experience if the audience weren’t completely endeared to them, and director Vicente Villanueva does a fantastic job at shaping how we are exposed to the characters, perceive their personalities as separate from the disorder, and — crucially — choosing precisely what we learn about them and when. This is paramount, because not only does it inform our understanding of their actions, but it also sets the stage for the comedy that is to follow. These characters all share a common affliction, but their symptoms are different, and the way they butt up against each other is fodder for jokes.
It is important to address the fact that yes, this is a film that mines a debilitating mental disorder for comedy, but it accomplishes the almost impossible task of doing so without coming across as mean-spirited or exploitative; every single one of its main characters is written — and portrayed — as a well-rounded, three-dimensional human person, and not a collection of tics and neuroses amplified to the point of caricature. That said, Toc Toc knows exactly what it is, and it does not attempt to make some grand statement about ableism or the human condition. This is a pure unpretentious slapstick / screwball comedy; silly, goofy, and fun. In these trying days of social unrest and rapidly devaluing currency, it is exactly the kind of thing we need to indulge in every once in a while.