By Jeff Farr
“Me, too,” the debut from co-directors Alvaro Pastor and Antonio Naharro, offers an insightful look at the lives of people with Down syndrome. Its mission is to argue strongly for a more mature understanding of them as human beings—with the same basic needs we all have, including sexual needs—and their full inclusion in modern society.
At key moments in the film, Down syndrome characters cry out: “I’m a man!” “I’m a woman, and that’s that!” Pastor and Naharro allow these piercing voices to be heard as they rarely have been–on film or anywhere else.
The success of this memorable first feature hinges in large part on the courageous casting of actors with Down syndrome. Pablo Pineda, in the lead role of Daniel, gives a particularly nuanced and winning performance, achieving considerable chemistry with his “normal intelligence” costar, Lola Duenas, whom U.S. audiences will recognize from her work with Pedro Almodovar in “Broken Embraces” (2009), “Volver” (2006), and “Talk to Her” (2002).
Daniel is a remarkable young man, who despite Down syndrome has graduated from college. Moreover, at age 34, he started his working career in a social services office in Seville, Spain. He comes from a well-to-do, highly educated, and super supportive family; his doting mother (Isabel Garcia Lorca) has played a central role in developing his intelligence and social skills beyond expectations.
Now that he has found gainful employment, Daniel’s goal is to find true love—and he sees no reason why it should be with a Down syndrome woman. Another office worker, the sexy Laura (Duenas), becomes the object of his intense adoration.
But Laura proves to be a troubled woman in nearly every way. Estranged from her family in Madrid, especially her dying father, she spends all her free time drinking heavily and engaging in numerous one-night stands.
The screenplay, written by the directors, emphasizes the idea of “normal” life to great effect. Daniel essentially wants to lead a happy domestic life, much like his parents and his brother (played by Naharro), but Laura is nothing like them and indeed comes to directly challenge Daniel’s long-held dream for that so-called normal life.
The contrast between the two characters aims to raise the intriguing question of which one of them is really disabled, Daniel or Laura? Daniel boasts self-confidence, self-awareness, and a sweet personality. In contrast, Laura has none of the above and is heading toward a personal disaster all of her own making.
But the attraction in this case is mutual. Laura starts to respond to Daniel’s innocence and his respect for her, qualities she has missed in the many other men she has known. Soon, the two are inseparable: eating lunch together, going to the beach, and eventually dancing and making out at an office party. But everywhere they turn, they are naturally met with disapproving glances. Their coworkers gossip about them incessantly, and Daniel’s mother is so suspicious of Laura that she launches an opposition to the burgeoning relationship.
Laura, having second thoughts, gives Daniel the boot, thus breaking his heart, before they get to the point of consummating their relationship. She hightails it back to Madrid to face her family melodrama. It is clear, though, that she has gained the inner fortitude to make this difficult trip only through Daniel’s positive influence on her life. Pastor and Naharro do not leave it there; they wisely take things to their logical conclusion with a well-scripted, touching reunion for these star-crossed lovers.
A subplot weaved throughout follows a similar love affair, between Pedro (Daniel Parejo) and Luisa (Lourdes Naharro), both members of a dance group for Down syndrome artists run by Daniel’s brother and his wife (Consuelo Trujillo). The two dancers also face tremendous opposition and misunderstanding from Luisa’s mother and social services, who all feel believe that grownup love is too dangerous for what they essentially see as children in adult bodies.
Daniel’s father (Pedro Alvarez Ossorio) perhaps puts it best in an argument with Daniel’s mother: “Didn’t you want a normal son? Well, you’ve got one, and normal people fuck! At least from time to time.” “Me, too” is making the case that these “special people” are, in a sense, normal, too; the film’s title sums it up.
Pastor and Naharro build their argument with many precision scenes like the parents’ argument and cutting lines that never seem forced. This is a perfect example of a screenplay that keeps things moving, never failing to engage and entertain, but at the same time moves a moral position forward with subtle grace. Match that with a super cast, from the leads on down, and you have a movie on a unique topic that leaves quite an impression. Who would have thought pairing Duenas with a Down syndrome actor would work this well?
Detractors may say that “Me, too” is a little too cute for its own good, and that it skirts over some of the more serious issues related to Down syndrome life by focusing largely on an exceptional impaired man from an privileged family. But to its credit, “Me, too” does not claim to be the definitive Down syndrome film. The directors’ purpose is to open up dialogue that is for the most part not happening anywhere. As Daniel simply puts it, “laws are made to be broken.”
Laura – Lola Duenas
Daniel – Pablo Pineda
Santi – Antonio Naharro
Mrs. Angeles – Isabel Garcia Lorca
Bernabe – Pedro Alvarez Ossorio
Consuelo – Consuelo Trujillo
Pedro – Daniel Parejo
Luisa – Lourdes Naharro
Pilar – Catalina Llado
Nuria – Susana Monje
The Dance Company – Danza Mobile de Sevilla
An Olive Films release.
Written and Directed by Alvaro Pastor, Antonio Naharro.
Produced by Alicia Produce, Promico Imagen.
Director of Photography, Alfonso Postigo.
Editor, Nino Martinez Sosa.
Score by Guille Milkyway.
Sound Editing by Nacho Royo, Pelayo Gutierrez.
Running time: 103 minutes.