‘I didn’t know who was representing Israel,” Fox told the Jerusalem Post, ‘and I thought ‘how could this be?’. And I started thinking about doing a movie about a bunch of neighbours who were good friends and wrote a song together.”
The result is Cupcakes (‘bananas” in the original Hebrew), a perky, freshly-scrubbed dramatic comedy musical that follows a clutch of perky, fresh-scrubbed young Jerusalemites as they write a perky, fresh-scrubbed song to cheery up a broken-hearted friend, only to see it be chosen to represent Israeli at the fictitious but entirely spot-on international competition UniverSong (in Paris, of course).
If the mates seem plucked from a particularly with-it wing of Central Casting, each serves a function in the none-too-deep scheme of things: baker Anat (Anat Waxman) has just learned her husband’s leaving her, whilst Efrat (Efrat Dor) is the frustrated gay songstress whose noodling morphs into the ditty perched to make them famous. Dana (Dana Ivgi) assists a cabinet minister and tries in vain to live up to the expectations of her conservative father, even as nursery school teacher Ofer (Ofer Schechter) frets his hummus-hustling boyfriend will never leave the closet behind and lawyer Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar) can’t get used to the corporate world and the moral conflict it brings.
Conflict, such as it is, comes in the form of some government nitwits who try to make the song, and the performance by the group now dubbed ‘Cupcakes,” gaudy even by Eurovision standards. This forces the crew to become closer than ever to realise their dream.
Steeped in a wistful nostalgia for a slower-paced society where neighbours actually knew each other and there was but a single television channel, Cupcakes creates a pastel-coloured world where friends are always there for each other and niceness wins the day.
Fans of the actual Eurovision contest will spot some sly, affectionate satirising of the event by Fox, who landed the actual ‘Song Number Six,’ which becomes ‘A Song for Anat,’ from Scissor Sisters multi-instrumentalist Scott ‘Babydaddy’ Hoffman, a friend of the director’s cousin.
‘Each one of us deserves his own guilty pleasure,” says one of this merry band early in the proceedings, and for some it will be this bright, featherweight concoction. Yet diabetics and all-around grumps are hereby warned: Cupcakes has little on its mind other than sugary sentiment and bubbly bromides. ‘I wanted to make a feel-good movie,” Fox said in that same interview, and that he certainly has.
Yet even he couldn’t avoid a political angle: ‘I asked my mother why Israel was in Eurovision if we’re not in Europe, and she said ‘were a small country surrounded by enemies.’” Had Fox dared to go there with Cupcakes, the film might have been a good bit more filling than it is. (Eddie Cockrell, Sbs.com.aut – voto 3/5)
‘There are two things that can change my mood: a good pop song, and sex,’ shares Keren (Keren Berger, Never Too Late), mere moments before the catchy tune of Captain & Tennille’s ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ plays to prove the first part of her point. Optimism spreads from this opening statement, Eytan Fox’s film wearing its atmosphere of bubbly fun – and its open heart – on its sleeve. Steeped in the simplicity of the pursuit of happiness, Cupcakes is a joyous ode to relishing the good in every moment.
In Tel Aviv, blogger Keren convenes with her friends and neighbours each year to indulge in the excitement, nostalgia and bizarre acts that characterise their guilty pleasure: the annual UniverSong competition. Inspired by an impromptu number crooned to cheer up baker Anat (Anat Waxman, Noodle) on her the dissolution of her marriage, aspiring performer and kindergarten teacher Ofer (Ofer Schechter, Rabies) nominates the group as Israel’s next competitors. Imagine their surprise – indie songstress Efrat (Efrat Dor, TV’s Downtown Precinct), former beauty queen turned lawyer Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar, A Wonderful Country), and minister’s assistant Dana (Dana Ivgi, Waiting for the Blackout) as well – when the group is selected.
Though reference is made to the varied make-up of the thrown-together popstar wannabes – and their representation of the diversity of their modernising nation – Cupcakes is largely unconcerned with culture and politics; similarly, while writer/director Fox is best known for the considerably weightier duo of 2002’s Yossi & Jagger and 2012’s sequel Yossi, frivolity reigns supreme. The ridiculousness of manufactured celebrity is apparent as the friends are primed for the televised contest, and the circus surrounding such international talent quests – Eurovision, obviously – is skewered, but all in light-hearted jest. At the core of the film is hope, not cynicism, as the sextet embraces the glory of an all-singing, all-dancing dream.
With the spotlight shared among the cast, each performer is offered their moment to shine – on and off stage. Each actor is also afforded their own character backstory, slight as they are, adding scant but needed flesh to roles otherwise played just to progress the narrative. Schechter stands out when he shows poise in handling the struggle of a closeted boyfriend, while Waxman plucks up spirit when confronted by challenge. Berger makes for an affable guide through the pleasant tale, her upbeat outlook the one the film itself most closely mirrors.
Fox luxuriates in the aesthetic flourishes his premise affords: bright costumes, bouncy pop tunes, the tinting of Paris – UniverSong’s host city – by the colourful sunglass lenses his characters wear, for example; not once does he allow his film to wallow in plainness, or forget its fantastical leanings. It may all build to an obvious finale, as the amateur band – sharing their name with the feature’s title – earns their TV outing, but the feel-good entertainment and charming enjoyment of Cupcakes is never less than infectious. (Sarah Ward, artshub.com.au – voto 3,5/5)
In a nostalgic throwback to the bygone days of neighborliness and kitsch TV, six fellow tenants gather together to watch “Unisong,” a “Eurovision”-type international singing contest. Unimpressed by the generic Israeli entry but still in musical mode, they join in an impromptu number to cheer up their hostess, whose husband has just left her. A cell phone-shot video of their ditty is submitted on a lark and soon goes viral, and the six soon find themselves elected as the official Israeli representatives at the next “Unisong” contest, to the great consternation of almost everyone involved.
Played by well-known actors from diverse disciplines, this gaggle of neighbors are a motley bunch indeed, each with his or her own reason for not going public. Efrat (Efrat Dor), a lesbian alternative singer-guitarist whose artistic intransigence has kept her on the margins of the business, wants no part of this cornball venue. Middle-aged baker Anat (Anat Waxman), the abandoned wife, dreads looking ridiculous and “age-inappropriate.” Dana (Dana Ivgy), who works as assistant to a conservative female politico just to please her Orthodox dad, shudders at the notion of so frivolously exposing herself.
Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar), an ex-beauty queen turned lawyer, fears losing respect as a professional woman. Pathologically shy blogger Keren (Keren Berger) hesitates to venture outside cyberspace. Only Ofer (Ofer Schecter), a teacher who delightedly performs for his kindergarteners in sequined drag, never hesitates, brushing off the paranoid imaginings of his tightly closeted lover (Alon Levi).
Finally, persuaded by friends, significant others, potential heartthrobs or inner revelations, each of the timid holdouts surrenders, as “Cupcakes” celebrates the heady liberation of coming out of societal closets with song, decor and romantic resolutions. Instead of subverting traditional movie-musical cliches, Fox and co-writer Eli Bijaoui gleefully revel in them: The scene in which showbiz professionals seek to polish a performer beyond recognition (Esther Blodgett, anyone?) gets a hilarious workout in an awful, overproduced song-and-dance number that destroys everything that made the neighbors’ song so charming. Eventually, of course, they remain true to their amiably kooky vision, Ofer looking particularly fetching in tuxedo top and tutu bottom. Fox lets the other “Unisong” acts proceed in more conventional, contemporary mode, though he films them with equal gusto.
With its bright pastels and chirpy campiness, “Cupcakes” seems closer to Pedro Almodovar’s kinky comedies than to Fox’s somber, war-torn “Yossi & Jagger” or the Israeli-Palestinian tensions that threatened to burst “The Bubble.” Momentarily abandoning the strain of imagining liberation within a realistically perceived Israel, Fox here settles for the ephemeral glow of an exuberant block party. (Ronnie Scheib, Variety)