The first scene in You’re Killing Me Susana sees a drunk man named Eligio (Gael Garcia Bernal) obnoxiously falling into bed with his wife Susana (Verónica Echegui). He tries to coax her into sex, then passes out. The second scene sees a now hungover Eligio peeing while narrating his dream from the previous night, in which he was forced to watch Susana have sex with another man.
But here’s the thing about dream stories: they’re not interesting to anyone but the person who dreamed them. They’re just not. “Do you want to hear about a dream I had” has started exactly zero interesting stories in the history of humanity. Sometimes, you just know at the start of the story that it’s not going to be particularly satisfying. Dreams are one such example; another is You’re Killing Me Susana.
The set up of this movie is ‘Eligio is an asshole,’ so it comes as no surprise to see Susana leave Eligio and move to Iowa to pursue her writing life. He’s terrible. He’s cheating on he; he’s a drunk; he’s completely unaware of the state of his wife. Director Robert Sneider gives Eligio 90 minutes to embark on his quest to win the girl back, but I was never sure why she would even consider it.
There are certain delights along the way. Sneider looks at masculinity with a frank and often funny eye, and he makes sure that viewers see Susana as a complicated woman.
Eligio is small and rancorous and constantly talking; he stresses about his missing wife from the bed of the woman he’s screwing. Susana’s midwestern beau is actually a Polish poet, massive and gentle and quiet as a mouse. She ends up in his bed without a word being shared between the two.
Sneider gets his best stuff in Susana from perhaps the most predictable of material. Eligio travels to the US on a one-way ticket, not quite sure where’s he’s going or how long he’s staying. Which is the kind of situation that raises the ire of immigration, for instance. Bernal is one of the smoothest actors working today, charming and effusive always. He plays his fish out of water with aplomb, here, regaling cornfed midwesterners with tales of bull penis tacos.
Also particularly amusing is the treatment of the midwestern Academic program for international writers that Susana participates in, sponsored by oil companies as the US State Department. No surprise to hear them ask for magazine articles and books that portray the United States in a “different light” than what the rest of the world might perceive.
But in the end, You’re Killing Me Susana doesn’t have much distance to tread beyond those first scenes, when Eligio and Susana were suffering in each others company. Sneider takes panes to ensure we see the (rather large) flaws in both of these characters.
Neither is particularly deserving of all of our sympathies, and that’s important in a romantic comedy like this. Both Susana and Eligio are put both through the relationship ringer, but the film builds their relationship to a particularly unwelcome moment of climax.
A couple of self-reflective moments is not enough to counter Eligio’s concern with dick-size and his demanding and abusive nature as a husband, nor a balance-tilter to make satisfying the literally forced conclusion that he and Sneider provide to Susana. It’s more embarrassing than revealing.