Pedro Almodóvar’s movies defy accepted wisdom and fly in the face of what is considered good or deserving. 1984’s “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” is a classic example of this. Only Pedro could get away with having his protagonist sell her twelve year old son to a creepy pervert dentist and still have us love her.
The opening sequence of the movie foreshadows so much of what comes later that you have to watch the film again just to appreciate the digs and direction. Pay attention to how handily Gloria swings that staff in the kendo after the class has gone off to the showers.
Almodóvar regular Carmen Maura is Gloria, a cleaning lady with one truly dysfunctional family and a ferocious speed habit. Her husband, a cab driver dreams of his former glory as the chauffeur of a famous German diva. Gloria’s neighbor, Cristal, turns tricks in her apartment and aspires to greatness…in Las Vegas. Another frequent Almodóvar favorite, Chus Lampreave, is dazzling as the black-market savvy Grandma who has a pet lizard named Money.
Everyone is a mess in this movie (except maybe Gloria’s sons; one dealing heroin and the other prostituting himself to older men………..ah, Pedro!) and yet the black undercurrent of humor never lets up. Watch for the corny and marvelous cameo of Almodóvar himself.
Just when all seems lost, when Gloria finds herself alone in the world and trying to rebuild her apartment and her life, Almodóvar whips up some of his sly magic and, voilà, we have a happy ending.
A very well-deserved happy ending at that. Ask Pedro.