REVIEW: ‘Smiley’ Is All Smiles

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Smiley - But Why Tho

The holiday season is rife with romantic comedies, and Netflix is here with an 8-episode Spanish-language offering, Smiley, the story of two strangers, Àlex (Carlos Cuevas) and Bruno (Miki Esparbé), and the friends and family around them. After Àlex is broken up with by a guy he thought was finally the right one, he calls the guy back to leave an angry voicemail. Only, he dialed the wrong number, and when Bruno receives the message, he decides to dial Àlex back.

For 8 episodes, we’re engrossed in a “will they, won’t they,” where I genuinely wasn’t sure if they would wind up together the whole way through. Their first meeting is on a cute premise but quickly turns into a shouting match filled with great points about masculinity, attraction, and stereotypes in the gay community. The topics are never really broached too deeply again, but it doesn’t matter because things are set in motion, and for most of the remaining show, their back-and-forth becomes the least interesting dynamic.

Rather, it’s the stories of Àlex and Bruno’s friends and family that make the show interesting. Àlex’s best friend and coworker at the gay bar she co-owns, Núria (Ruth Llopis), is having relationship difficulties with her longtime partner Patri (Giannina Fruttero), with whom she’s meant to move into a new apartment soon. Bruno’s best friend and coworker Albert (Eduardo Lloveras) is also having troubles with his love life and feeling satisfied in life altogether. Núria’s co-owner Javier (Pepón Nieto) is bitten by loneliness and loose lips. Even Àlex’s mother is going through it as a long-lost best friend returns to town after years estranged from her and her late husbands’ lives. Plus, Àlex and Bruno each wind up in some other relationships along the way to complicate things even further.

It’s these constantly interweaving stories that really move Smiley along the most. Yes, the time spent with Àlex and Bruno pining over each other and being unsure how to proceed drives the plot and services the show well. Àlex is acted really sweetly, with Bruno a bit tense and pensive but making a nice foil for Àlex comedically. But without all of the other drama taking place, their story would be far less compelling. I especially appreciate these secondary stories for how they demonstrate an array of romantic experiences, especially queer ones, without ever drawing a single conclusion that one way to resolve life’s troubles is more universally right than any other. The show’s not that deep, but the breadth of stories it tells does make it all the more compelling.

For most of the show, there are some editing gimmicks that place Àlex and Bruno in juxtaposing panels on the screen. It happens few enough times that each slightly different iteration feels fresh and interesting visually and with regards to the dialogue structure that ensues. Some occasions stack a number of panels on top of each other, and some put characters into creative soliloquies, talking right at the camera. It’s enjoyable whenever it comes up and breaks up the pace while demonstrating that the show isn’t meant to be too self-serious.

While I wish the central two characters offered more of an interesting dynamic with each other, the rest of Smiley’s cast and conflicts make the show a well-rounded and pleasant watch. Most of the stories do not end where I would have anticipated at the very beginning, and it’s all smiles watching all the way through.

Smiley is streaming now on Netflix.


Smiley
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

While I wish the central two characters offered more of an interesting dynamic with each other, the rest of Smiley’s cast and conflicts make the show a well-rounded and pleasant watch. Most of the stories do not end where I would have anticipated at the very beginning, and it’s all smiles watching all the way through.

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