A few years ago, my friend Annette introduced me to "The Bold and the Beautiful". We were working on a project together, and one day during a lunch break, she suggested we switch on the program. I wasn't completely opposed to soaps, having been a fan of "One Life to Live" for many years during my early teens, but little did I know that on that fateful afternoon I would begin a lifelong commitment. For the next few months, Annette and I would tune in daily to catch up on the machinations of the Forresters, as they navigate the treacherous world of high-fashion in Los Angeles. Work, however, is always the last thing on the minds of these characters. At the time, I recall, Brooke Logan, the show's resident siren, was trying to determine if she was pregnant with the child of Ridge Forrester, her husband who she thought was dead, or Nick Marrone, his brother who had tried to comfort her before they realized Ridge was still alive. Only one person knew that the baby was really Ridge's, but she had been killed in a tragic auto accident. So over the course of many weeks, the show teased and teased until the secret finally was revealed. But by that point, of course, I would be as satisfied following the Forresters as watched paint dry: I was a complete addict.
At the risk of sounding like a granny, I gotta admit that there are so many things I love about watching my "stories." I love the incredible plot twists, the returns from the dead, the secrets from the past, the scheming and backstabbing, the bed-hopping; I love the high drama, the nastiness and the fist-fights between ladies; I love that everyone is always wearing fantastic outfits and flying in private jets and lounging in the jacuzzi all day. And nobody writes better death scenes than soap writers, as my mother has observed: they are long and weepy and full of heartfelt pledges and tender revelations. For those uninitiated, it may be difficult to believe, but if you're not addicted to a daytime serial, you're missing out on one of the great pleasures of life.
But apparently I'm not alone. This unabashed love for melodrama and soap opera is, for me, one of the great pleasures of watching Pedro Almodovar's latest film, Volver, which often feels like a few episodes of a daytime drama rolled into one feature film. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.) From a dead mother who appears in apparitions, a tragic cancer patient searching for the truth of how her parents died, a woman whose daughter also happens to be her sister, a murdered husband whose body is buried in an ice chest near the river -- the film constantly tries to top itself at every turn, as long-held secrets are tearfully revealed and the plot veers from outrage to outrage as the characters trip over themselves to make things right, while all the time getting deeper into trouble. But like any good soap, the actors and filmmaker never tip their hat, and every wild plot point is treated with the utmost seriousness.
This is not to say that the movie technically is on the level of daytime television. All the filmmaking elements -- photography, music, design -- are on a higher level than anything you would find on "The Bold and the Beautiful". But I think the spirit of the movie celebrates what's great about these programs that are a staple of so many people's lives: the drama of the supernatural, the irrational acts of people in trouble, and most of all, the humor in everyday situations and events. In this, it wouldn't be hard to imagine that Almodovar is secretly paying tribute to a form of entertainment that has so much in common with his films: The lifeblood of both an Almodovar film and a soap opera is the examination of how people (especially women) behave in highly charged emotional life situations. It seems strange to think that such a celebrated filmmaker would have so much in common with what is generally considered a crass form of entertainment, but one of the great joys of an Almodovar film is relating personally to the highly melodramatic situations in the films. You might say it's like watching the greatest soap opera of all time -- the best acting, most deeply felt and most stylish -- and these are the qualities that propel his films from everyday popcorn entertainment to artistic achievement.
Certainly there are many more things to be enjoyed in Volver, and under the surface, Almodovar tells a deeper and more emotionally compelling story about family than what you'd ever find on television. But as all his plates were spinning in the air, I stopped for a moment to think about the great fun of stories that are told day-in and day-out on the soaps and how the people behind these programs must come up with the wild and always suspenseful storylines to keep the narrative interesting for months and years on end. I suppose life presents a never-ending treasure trove of human drama for soap opera stories, and the writers tap into the headlines and tabloids for inspiration. But the work that goes on behind the scenes of my favorite daily serial is pretty much unheralded, and there was something strange, but also fitting and appropriate, about appreciating "The Bold and the Beautiful" while watching a great achievement of cinema like Volver.
Getting Reel is a biweekly commentary about movies and the world.