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'Pulling Strings' review: A congenial charmer and delight for RomCom fans

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Pulling Strings

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Sweet but not saccharine, daft but not dopey, "Pulling Strings" offers a winning option for most anyone, and mandatory viewing for Romantic Comedy fans.

Here we meet Rachel (Laura Ramsey), a successful, career-wedded young woman following her late father into the family business, that being itinerant diplomatic service. Stationed in Mexico City and about to depart for London, Rachel takes her farewell party a few too far, and winds up half passed out at a bus stop.

Enter Alejandro (Jaime Camil), the lead singer of the Mariachi band that played her party, aka the single father whose request for a travel visa she’d flatly and quite brusquely denied that very morning. Upon securing her in safe quarters until she remembers herself, he concocts a plan to impress her, in hopes of changing her mind. It involves a bit of harmless deception, but no harm no foul, right? And desperate times call for desperate measures…

Wrangling loyal buddy Canicas (Omar Chaparro), Alejandro sets in motion a charade strangely reminiscent of "Bowfinger" (if you haven’t seen it, queue it up), and leads Rachel on an odyssey through Mexico City in which he’ll emerge heroic ~ until things start turning real, both logistically and emotionally.

"Pulling Strings" boasts three strong, and very wise, features. First, it never loses control. Like a writer or designer who knows how to edit, "Pulling Strings" pushes every romantic and comedic boundary without ever resorting to excess. Just when it seems about to turn raucous, contrived, or maudlin, it reins into lively, reasonable, and genuine.

Stock RomCom elements (coincidence, misunderstanding, opposite style sidekick, etc.) remain always tempered with enough realism to remain believable (not always the case, and why I’m personally leery of romantic comedy by default). For example, rather than unabashedly accompanying Alejandro into recklessness while playing the clown, Canicas instead repeatedly urges his friend toward wisdom and provides a gregarious wit. He’s still crazy and funny (his car's name is Angelina Jolie), but he makes sense.

Second, "Pulling Strings" never over-reaches. We’re given enough information as to what drives our characters (melancholy at best and grievous at worst), but once it’s told, it stops. They enjoy enough insight to realize and communicate why they’re doing what they’re doing, and they own it, but they don’t take us so deep that it disrupts the lighthearted tone. Be it sadness or joy, "Pulling Strings" hums along in a sweet Goldilocks zone.

And third, it stars Jaime Camil. He’s quite superb, actually, in a way that rather catches up with you afterward. As mentioned, there aren’t many dramatic moments (two minor, three major), but he just nails them, giving "Pulling Strings" its ballast. His musical numbers are terrific as well, with one in particular being worth the price of admission. The song, "Maria," is sheer poetry, and his performance sheer soul; so lovely was it that it inspired audible response and applause from the screening audience. I can’t wait to see more from him going forward.

The script is quite funny (I love the bit about time-telling in Mexico), and "Pulling Strings" pulls a couple of nice twisty surprises before we’re done. I’m reminded of Lake Bell’s comment regarding how she filmed "In a World…": that the actors are funny, and the story is funny, so it was going to be funny, so she shot it like a drama. Which made it hilarious. Brilliant. Similarly, "Pulling Strings" refrains from the magic-wand all-is-forgiven kiss kiss, and instead gives its characters some real consequence. Which makes the actual ending all the more charming. Brilliant.

Laura Ramsey turns in a fine job in the generally undemanding role of Rachel; much is not asked of her here, but she’s Rebecca Pidgeon 2.0 and it’ll be nice to see where she goes. In every combination the cast enjoy excellent chemistry, and with nice supporting turns from Stockard Channing, Tom Arnold, and Catherine Papile, "Pulling Strings" leaves one settled and happy. Comfortably paced and engaging along the way, it leaves nothing to do afterward except smile.

Steady cheer with a smidge of serious: the perfect romantic comedy.

Story: When a Mexican musician serendipitously rescues the tequila-infused American diplomat who flatly denied his travel visa that morning, he devises a plan to impress her in hopes of changing her mind.

Genre: Romance, comedy

Starring: Laura Ramsey, Jaime Camil, Omar Chaparro, Stockard Channing, Catherine Papile, Tom Arnold

Directed by: Pedro Pablo Ibarra

MPAA: PG

Running time: 112 minutes

Official Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PSMovie

Houston release date: October 4, 2013

Tickets: Check Fandango, IMDb, or your local listings

Screened Sep 25th as the AMC Studio 30 theater in Houston TX

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