A gossamer-light musical comedy

Eytan Fox’s film ‘Cupcakes’ is sweet but not fattening.

A gossamer-light musical comedy (photo credit: Courtesy)
A gossamer-light musical comedy
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Cupcakes Hebrew title: Bananot Directed by Eytan Fox With Yael Bar-Zohar, Dana Ivgi, Anat Waxman, Keren Berger, Efrat Dor, Ofer Shechter Running time:1 hour, 30 minutes In Hebrew. Check with theaters for subtitle information
Eytan Fox’s latest film Cupcakes (in Hebrew it’s called Bananot ) revives the tradition of Israeli movie musicals. It’s a stylized, gossamer-light musical comedy with gorgeous production design, a great pop score and, best of all, a group of actors who get to have fun on screen, singing and dancing together.
In the past, there were a few genuine Israeli musicals, like the very dated 1974 Yehoram Gaon vehicle Kazablan and Avi Nesher’s 1978 cult classic about an army entertainment group Ha’lahaka (The Troupe). There used to be many movies that featured pop songs prominently, such as Hashoter Azulai (The Policeman), which is as famous for the Ehud Manor/Nurit Hirsch theme song as for the film itself. But although Israeli movies have gone through a renaissance over the past decade, music has rarely been an important element. Fox has been one of the few directors in recent years to devote care to the music in his movies. The song “Bo” (Come) by Rita has an important place in Fox’s 2002 Yossi & Jagger , and Ivri Lider recorded a beautiful new version of it for that film. Fox’s television 2009 television miniseries, Mary Lou , was a musical drama that highlighted music by Zvika Pik. So it’s fitting and very welcome that Fox has chosen to bring Israeli music back to the big screen with Cupcakes .
The story hearkens back to a simpler time, and the narration reminds us that not long ago, people knew their neighbors and there was only one television channel. Nostalgic for those days, a group of friends in a Tel Aviv suburb get together to watch Universong, a Eurovision-like television song contest. They’d all like to forget the stress of their daily lives. Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar) is a former beauty queen who is unfulfilled by her job as a corporate lawyer; Dana (Dana Ivgi) is a stressed-out aide to a cabinet minister and timidly tries to please her traditional father; Anat (Anat Waxman), has a successful bakery but an unsuccessful marriage; Keren (Keren Berger) is a shy blogger; Efrat (Efrat Dor) is a frustrated singer- songwriter whose career has stalled; and Ofer (Ofer Shechter) is a nursery-school teacher who is upset that his boyfriend, a spokesmodel for his family’s famous brand of humous, is still in the closet and won’t publicly acknowledge their romance. When the night of the Universong final rolls around, they gather to watch and are depressed by the lifelessness of the Israeli entry, a parody of many recent offerings, a flashy, grating song about “amour.” After they realize that Anat is distraught over the crisis in her marriage, they compose a song to cheer her up. As a lark, Ofer enters their cellphone video of it in next year’s contest, and it becomes Israel’s entry.
When a group of comically inept baddies from the Israel Broadcasting Authority press them to make their song into the kind of slick ditty they wrote it to rebel against, they are faced with a dilemma. Do they sell out and go to the contest or do they stay true to themselves and somehow raise the money on their own to head for the competition? I won’t be giving anything away when I reveal that the final section of the film takes place at the contest finals in Paris, with the impish French star Edouard Baer as the master of ceremonies.
None of this is realistic, nor is it meant to be. It’s glorious escapism, in the tradition of the films of Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). The music is light and catchy, the cupcakes Anat bakes look tasty, and the décor and outfits are cute. Fox even manages to give a fresh take on a ride through Paris, as each of the characters views the city through sunglasses tinted in the special color each wears throughout the film.
The more you know and like Eurovision, the funnier you’ll find the send-ups of typical Eurovision production numbers and hosts. But even those who are not into Eurovision will have fun at this infectious and enjoyable movie. Watching Cupcakes is like taking an extravagant 90-minute vacation from reality, and who couldn’t use a vacation these days?