At a particularly rundown corner of Almodóvar Boulevard and Tarantino Lane, you’ll find Women in Trouble, a limp, forgettable collection of interlocking tales all centering on the eponymous narrative setup. Writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez seemingly wants to make one of those cheeky, affectionate odes to “women”—the filmic construct as much as the flesh-and-blood reality—that a certain subsection of male directors have attempted over the years. Yet while Almodóvar and, yes, Tarantino have the bone-deep understanding of genre required to both exploit and explode gender stereotypes, Gutierrez flounders between celebration and exploitation, arch self-awareness and barely-contained bathos.
This proves particularly problematic given the male-fantasy archetypes that populate the film’s day-in-the-life narrative scheme: a pregnant porn star (Carla Gugino); a pair of call girls (Adrianne Palicki and Emmanuelle Chriqui) hiding out after witnessing a mob murder; a flight attendant who has an ill-advised bathroom quickie with an aging drummer (Josh Brolin). It’s not that Gutierrez doesn’t get what he’s doing here; if anything, he’s a little too on-the-nose. The film opens with Gugino’s Elektra Luxx filming a scene in full nun garb, and when she needs to coax a prison guard into letting her and her comely female companion out of the prison cell, she quickly strips away the habit to reveal an ornate lingerie getup underneath. (Women play conflicting gender roles? Get out!)
But if Gutierrez acknowledges the sexed-up conventions he’s working with, he also doesn’t push them forward in any significant direction. Just about every story in Women in Trouble, which also includes a psychiatrist (Sarah Clarke) who learns of her husband’s (Simon Baker) infidelity and a stressed-out aunt (Connie Britton) keeping a big secret from her niece (Isabella Gutierrez), gets the same half-sarcastic, half-sentimental treatment, flattening out any subversive wrinkles they may have had. And while Gutierrez is always affectionate toward his female protagonists, he also concocts a suspiciously large number of scenarios in which they strip down to their skivvies. Emotional unraveling and physical disrobing are very much linked in the world of Women in Trouble.
If Gutierrez cannot match Almodóvar and Tarantino’s sense for genre deconstruction, his attempts at aping their visual and verbal styles similarly fall flat. Women in Trouble‘s aesthetically flip-flops between the staid and the busy. Bursts of vibrant color within the frame feel less like evocations of mood than the goosing of an otherwise-iffy visual palette (though he does do some nice things with doors and mirrors in the film’s first half, evoking the characters’ initial distance from one another). Even worse, Gutierrez lards his script with tons of bargain-basement QT nonsense. Schematic conversations about the Virgin Mary’s sexual history and other such “quirky” topics consistently grind the film to a halt, leaving a largely talented cast to find the humor and pathos amid the twaddle. And some do, particularly Palicki’s emotionally bruised call girl and Gugino’s reflective porn star. (Will somebody please get this firecracker of an actress a great leading role, like, now?). But such moments are too few and far between to make Women in Trouble anything more than a reminder that others have done this far better.