A Mexican soap opera actor and philanderer gets his comeuppance in “You’re Killing Me, Susana,” a romantic comedy that feels at times like a by-the-numbers exercise, but is partly redeemed by some decent jokes and an appealing performance by Gael García Bernal.
Bernal’s Eligio is a charming rogue who earns his keep in the less-elevated echelons of showbiz in Mexico City. He has no scruples about two-timing his wife (Veronica Echegui, who makes quite a fetching couple with Bernal), an aspiring writer and the Susana of the film’s title.
When Eligio wakes up one day to find that she’s left without a word, we quickly learn that he has a less affable side (though it never takes over completely). It’s the old double standard — this macho guy can dish it out but can’t take it. Eligio eventually figures out that she’s taken off for Iowa, of all places, to attend a writing workshop at a fictitious university.
He heads north, where his more playful side gets him into immediate (although modest) trouble with Customs. This signals that we’re in for some fish-out-of-water, culture-clash humor, and writer/director Roberto Sneider serves up plenty of it.
Eligio is aghast to find that his wife is hitting the sack with another workshop participant, a large, taciturn Polish poet. She eventually accepts her husband’s unasked-for presence — allowing him to crash in her dorm room — and they engage in some lively exchanges about the nature of their relationship.
Although labeled a comedy, there are some serious undertones as Eligio learns a thing or two about the complexities of love and the reality of his own shortcomings. Toward the end, he is tested by an attractive and flirtatious young American woman (Ashley Grace).
It’s always fun to watch the charismatic Bernal, and he gets a nice chance to show his comic chops as Eligio struggles to cope with unfamiliar American ways. But as attractive as the character is, there isn’t a lot of depth to him, and filmmaker Sneider never quite makes us care enough about what happens to the marriage.
Eventually it feels like the movie is spinning its wheels.