With Cupcakes, director Eytan Fox embraces a full-on screwball musical effort set within a fictionalized reality-TV milieu, though the results are more pallidly amusing than sharply satirical. Both a textual and visual departure for Fox, the film quickly introduces six Israeli friends who assemble for an evening to watch UniverSong, an international singing competition that seeks the best new musical acts from across the globe. The group is made up of five women and their gay BFF, Ofer (Ofer Shechter), whose secretive relationship with Asi (Alon Levi), the poster boy for a popular hummus brand, initially gives the friends’ relationship an intriguing dynamic, since Dana (Dana Ivgy) flippantly remarks about having dreamt about Asi the previous night. However, Fox gradually drops potential sexual conflicts between the friends, opting instead for a thoroughly hollow rumination on pop-culture mechanics as they pertain to young, aspiring professionals, who are granted one last crack at reveling in their more youthful desires. In this case, an impromptu video, shot the night of the group’s gathering, becomes the basis on which the sextet is chosen to compete in the next year’s competition.
Little coalesces in Cupcakes beyond the most surface pleasures, such as the film’s candy-colored visual palette and its presumption that seeing a group of friends indulge their ephemeral instincts provides momentary solace from exterior, darker goings-on. After all, as Keren (Keren Berger) explains in the opening scene, “we all want to be part of the normal world and not fight it for once.” The line seems not only a directive for the characters, but Fox himself, whose previous films, Walk on Water and The Bubble, conclude with tragic events that long for peaceful unification. Perhaps Cupcakes should best be taken as fantasy, as an escape for the director from the travails that haunt both sexuality and nationality throughout his oeuvre. Yet an escape, in and of itself, isn’t valid unless the fleeing yields meaningful orientations to something else, which Fox has comprehensively refused here, opting for an exhaustively sweet treatment of friendship and relationship woes that indulges the most hackneyed forms of comedic expression. Voiceover montages are used multiple times, as is the inevitable, climactic sequence that surveys all of the group’s friends and secondary characters watching the event as it unfolds live on TV.
Nothing in Cupcakes punctuates a critique of any sort, sans Ofer and Asi’s relationship being covered up by Asi’s family in order to avoid the unwanted publicity. Otherwise, the insights are catered toward tepid melodrama that wonders aloud whether particular characters will find companionship or be forced to rely on the solidarity of friends. Whatever the resolution, the filmmakers make no effort to give their narrative a more pointed direction, which is particularly vexing given that the film’s is prime for meaningful rejoinders to either normative characterizations or taking jabs at the vacuous conceits of reality TV. Moreover, the punches that are thrown strike phantom blows, like when Efrat (Efrat Dor) smokes pot in Ofer’s daycare, responding to his scowl: “You poison them with Celine Dion, but a joint bothers you?” Such obvious rhetorical moves are compounded by the film’s refusal to acknowledge its delights as blatant products of glocalization, where the global product of pop music becomes conflated with local, culturally specific desire. As such, Cupcakes is a pop mannequin, isomorphic of human struggle, but resolutely plastic in its convictions.