Neurotic Quest for Serenity Image

Brazilian telenovela star Kika (Tatá Werneck) is going through life challenges In Neurotic Quest for Serenity. She’s a famous actress with millions of fans. She has an obsessive compulsive disorder. She can’t find happiness anywhere she looks, be it her career, her relationship or even her own ghost-written self-help book. She’s frustrated with fame, yet desiring more. She’s so desperate for a part in an upcoming post-apocalyptic telenovela Amorgeddon: Apocalypse of love that she dreams of it constantly. After her ghostwriter sends her a secret message Kika sets out to find it’s meaning and perhaps with it something finally satisfying. Will Kika find happiness and true love?

Pure Brazilian machismo is responsible for this live action cartoon. The film’s vulgar comedy is reminiscent of the Farrelly brothers (remember them?) or Judd Apatow. Superbad is a close American analog. When Kika is given the wrong drugs for anxiety she winds up tripping balls at a book signing, drooling, laughing at her fans, touching herself inappropriately. Her most successful novela character is a cross-eyed farm girl with a speech impediment. Men are constantly telling her she’s less attractive than she really is and the character is completely vapid. The viewer is meant to laugh at Kika, not with her. This is not going to translate well to American audiences, not now.

“…OCD tics are exploited as sight gags…

The men in this story are caricatures : a suicidal self-help writer, a hot male soap star who’s so self-absorbed in his celebrity bubble that his sex drive has become his entire ethos and motivation, a fat psychopathic stalker played for laughs, and a crypt-keeper-aged sleazy network executive passing judgement on whether young women he’s hiring for raunchy TV shows are attractive and pure enough. With this line-up of hilarious dysfunction, the relatively ordinary guy whose ambition is to get high and play video games, but who still feels empowered to tell Kika she’s “not that pretty” seems like a reasonable romantic option for her.

Her OCD tics are exploited as sight gags: she can’t walk on lines, she can’t sleep for having apocalyptic visions, she’s convinced she left the gas on every time she leaves home, and so on. But there’s no plot point built on them. She’s just, you know, “kooky.”

Her boyfriend Caio skypes from Rio while masturbating and insists she sends him nudes. He whines “a relationship is just like a shark if you don’t send him nudes he dies,” which results in some particularly awkward revenge porn fodder and the neologism “boobassgina.” Vladimir is a negging a*****e who works at a bookstore. He teaches her the value of taking things less seriously. His answer to most of life’s demands is “foda-se,” Portuguese for “f**k it.”

“…possibly meant to be a fantasy, if that’s the case it’s Vladimir’s fantasy…”

The violent stalker is played for laughs, which is grotesque and disturbing rather than funny, particularly when Kika is shown feeling sorry for him. When he learns she’s banging Vladimir he loses his s**t, not because she’s romantically involved, but because it’s with an ordinary guy that’s not him. He felt entitled to own her if she was going to come down from Olympus and date the hoi polloi. The tale is possibly meant to be a fantasy. If that’s the case it’s Vladimir’s fantasy, not Kika’s. 

Comedy is a funny thing. Reception of it is particularly sensitive to local culture and timing. In a different, less evolved time this film might have been funny. It’s meant to be goofy crude humor and maybe I’m overthinking it. Perhaps I’m not keyed into Brazilian farce. Werneck is quite good at the physical comedy. She has talent. There’s nothing much else memorable about the film.

The original title is TOC Transtornada Obsessivo Compulsivo which is Portuguese for OCD. In the American market, they changed the name, possibly thinking it would be in poor taste to name a comedy film for a serious mental illness? Perhaps they should have gone ahead, though, given the crudity and sexism in the film. I mean, at that point, foda-se.

Neurotic Quest for Serenity (2018). Directed by Paulinho Caruso, Teodoro Poppovic. Starring Tatá Werneck, Daniel Furlan, Bruno Gagliasso, Vera Holtz. North American Premiere at SXSW 2018.

4 out of 10

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