Baking up Israel’s lighter side in this goofy Eurovision parody, Eytan Fox’s Cupcakes is a sweet celebration of the power of camp.
La Vie En Rose by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
You have to wonder whether a release date around mid-May wouldn’t have been better for Eytan Fox’s latest film Cupcakes, as an irrepressibly joyful celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest in all its camp glory. It’s infused from start to finish with Eurovision winning songs past and present (excepting perhaps only Bucks Fizz’s Making Your Mind Up and ABBA’s Waterloo). But there’s a hit-parade of should-have-been Eurovision hits from Captain & Tennille’s Love Will Keep us Together and Baccara’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie to Mike Brant’s Laisse-Moi T’aimer, The Manhattan Transfer’s Chanson D’Amour and Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life. After the queer politics of Yossi & Jagger and Yossi with their national service romance and paralysing grief, Cupcakes is unashamedly camp, with its lip-synching kindergarten teacher in drag and a colour-coordinated spectrum of Tel Aviv neighbours. But it’s also nostalgic – not only for Eurovision, but also for a fading Israeli sense of community, and for a lost joie de vivre which can unite all children of the universe.
It’s the evening of the Universong Contest and six neighbours gather for the annual singing contest; web blogger (Keren Berger), political advisor Dana (Dana Ivgy), former Miss Israel model and lawyer Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar), frustrated singer-songwriter (Efrat Dor), cupcake baker Anat (Anat Waxman) and nursery school teacher and irrepressible lip-dubber Ofer (Ofer Shechter). Anat’s husband has just left her, and when the five friends notice her heartbreak, they sing her a song to cheer her up, all filmed by Ofer on his phone. Convinced Song For Anat is better than the usual Israeli entries, Ofer enters it into the competition. And when it wins, it’s up to him to convince the others to risk humiliation and take part. All looking for some sort of escape or opportunity, only Dana refuses, worried about her traditional father and her career in politics. But when the troupe are given a slick make-over and their song restyled with and electro-beat, she decides to come on board and get the singing sextet back on track.
Neatly scripted, all the singers in the Universong group have a problem – Anat is a successful businesswoman but after years of sending her husband out as a glorified delivery boy, he’s had enough. Keren leads a lonely life, alone with her computer, fantasising over an imaginary romance with a lipreading blogger. Dana is doing well in her career as a minister’s aide, but with her traditional father and her drive to succeed, she’s afraid to let her hair down. Yael is a lawyer sleeping with her boss, but not quite managing anything by herself. And Ofer, like the gay couple in Eytan Fox’s breakthrough hit Yossi & Jagger, met his boyfriend while on military service, but he’s a TV presenter as well as the heir to a multi-million hummus empire and firmly in the closet. Their participation in the Universong Contest though, as they travel to Paris where Anat meets gallant Frenchman Edmund de Baer, gives each of them the opportunity to overcome their failings; they return confident and empowered – shaking off the limitations holding them back.
Iced with lashings of sugary songs (“What is Amour? Amour is for sure!”), cinematic references (with Genevieve’s umbrella shop standing in for Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) and Eurovision digs (with closeted Russian singers, eurobeat sampling and tactical voting), Cupcakes is a celebration of kitsch. But it’s good, clean camp – like the pastel spectrum of colour coordinated outfits and sunglasses the women and Ofer wear, or the sleight of camera as the tuxedo he adjusts in the mirror is revealed to be accompanied by a pink tutu. And while Eytan Fox has some things to say about modern Israel (the pop group is described as a perfect vision of modern Israel – “Too bad there’s no Arab”), it’s somewhat distracted by its soap-opera lighting and the occasionally awkward lurch too far into kitsch.
Like the grand festival of camp, the Eurovision Contest itself, there’s something enjoyably heartwarming about Cupcakes and its message, eager as it is to encourage the imaginative openness in which his singers can say yes to opportunity as it knocks and encouraging people can connect. And ending with its protagonists dancing in the streets, risking embarrassment to embrace silliness and a communal kind of happiness, Cupcakes offers a mantra Eytan Fox himself seems to have adopted. And while Cupcakes may prove too sugary for some, it’s also a delightful sugar rush of silliness, soft-centred and very sweet.
Cupcakes is released on 25th April 2014 in the UK