“No Manches Frida”: A Hollywood Screwball Comedy Made in Mexico

The Two Chirping Chicanas and Me
I love Netflix and Hulu. Whenever I watch a movie on my huge, flat-screen, HD TV, I recreate the art house, cinema experience by drawing the drapes and turning off the lights. Bergman (Ingmar, not Ingrid) observed that sitting in a darkened movie theater, watching the flickering images on the screen while suspending disbelief for a couple of hours is the closest conscious experience to the sleeping dream-state.  So, the other day, I got out of my recliner, temporarily terminated my binge watching of La reina del sur on Netflix, and headed for the Santikos Mayan Palace cineplex to see No manches Frida.
Initially, I was the only person attending the Tuesday, 2:10 PM matinee. But just before the movie started, two Chicana ladies sat a few rows behind me and began chirping away in Spanish. My first thought was, “Oh no, my conscious dream-state movie experience is going to have non-stop play-by-play commentary in Spanish.”
Years ago, I went to a matinee screening of Like Water for Chocolate. Seated behind me were two Latina ladies chatting in Spanish. One of them had obviously already seen the film and was prompting the other lady on what to expect as a scene unfolded. Just before one particularly “revealing” scene, she whispered, “Este es la parte en que ella salta de la ducha desnuda y se sube en su caballo y aleja como una loca.”
Fortunately, as the opening credits rolled and No manches Frida began, the pitter-patter subsided and the two chirping Chicanas and I sat quietly, respectfully, our cell phones turned off and enjoyed the show.
No manches Frida is a very well-crafted, well-acted comedy that artfully combines the classic fish-out-of-water and unconventional, inspirational teacher vs. unruly classroom motifs. We’ve seen variations of this popular theme in films like Goodbye, Mr. Chips, To Sir, with Love and Stand and Deliver. Not to mention popular TV shows like Welcome Back, Kotter and Room 222.
The basic plot: A thief recently released from prison named Sequi, (Omar Chapparo) tries to recover stolen money his ditzy girlfriend buried for him. Problem is, she buried the loot on the campus of a school named after the famous Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. During his imprisonment, a gymnasium was built over the burial site.  Sequi scams a job as a substitute teacher in order to access the gymnasium and dig up his ill-gotten pesos. However, as the story progresses, Sequi finds himself crossing the threshold over from greedy thief to caring teacher.
Omar Chaparro and Martha Higareda
Under the capable direction of Nacho G. Valilla, No manches Frida reminds me of classic Hollywood screwball comedies with its rapid-fire dialog, repartee, and sexual double entendres. The screenwriters also make good use of that most uniquely, versatile and eloquent Mexican word: “Chingar”.
Noted Mexican linguist, Pilar Montes de Oca, catalogs in her scholarly, must-read book El Chinganario, over 180 colorful and commonly spoken phrases spiced with every conceivable variation of “chingar.” I know for a fact there are at least 180 because I grew up hearing my abuela Juanita employ them on a daily basis. The characters in No manches Frida use them to great comedic effect. The two chirping Chicanas and I laughed hysterically whenever they were uttered. The bespectacled, bookish, school marm, Lucy, (Martha Higareda) rattles off a couple of good ones with girlish glee.
All three principle actors give first rate performances.
  • Omar Chapparo is engaging as Sequi, the street-wise ladron who cons his way into the school then finds himself emotionally and romantically drawn into the world of a substitute teacher.
  • Martha Higareda is a charming and vulnerable presence as Lucy, the earnest, do-gooder teacher who is instantly attracted to bad boy Sequi and his off-beat teaching methods.
  • Monica Dionne does a nice turn as Miss Gaby, the tough as nails school administrator with a heart of gold.
Director Valilla’s No manches Frida is a fast-paced, raucous, often raunchy comedy filled with laughs, slapstick humor, great music and highly likable characters. At its heart though, No manches Frida is a story of transformation and redemption. In his quest to recover buried treasure, Sequi discovers inner personal “treasures” that money…stolen or otherwise…can’t buy.
No manches Frida is a thoroughly fun-filled narrative ride. I can report unequivocally that the two chirping Chicanas and I give No manches Frida: ¡DOS PULGARES ARRIBA!
Movie Review: No manches Frida
Director: Nacho G. Valilla
Screenplay: Laurence Rosenthal, Claudio Herrera, Sergio Adrian Sanchez
Starring: Omar Chapparo, Martha Higareda, Monica Dionne
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
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