The real measure of a movie’s success is overcoming that Great Indifference. It’s one thing to reach an audience, gain critical acclaim and awards, or just be profitable, but after that, a movie has to make a space for itself in the big library of future relevance, to imprint itself in enough viewers to sustain itself as a memorable piece.
The path to overcome that Great Indifference is hard but straightforward: It’s reserved for either exceptional movies or exceptionally terrible movies. Or movies that were the first to do several things and ever since became compulsory in Film Studies curriculums even though they whipped up fascist movements.
It is not impossible, even though it might sound contradictory, for a mediocre or a plain bad movie (that is, not enjoyably bad) to become memorable. Think the first Fast & Furious, or one out of four of those ’80s movies nostalgic nerds can’t stop yapping about. Most of these benefit from having been huge box office hits, their cultural impact becoming a necessity of having reached a critical mass of viewers.
From then on, you have several layers and subcategories of forgotten or semi-forgotten mediocrity, until you reach those movies that have become one’s own personal obsession despite (and because) their terribleness. You are befuddled, but you can’t look away. Unlike other movie trainwrecks, there’s no one there to share in the aesthetic drama, because you are the only one who remembers that damn movie. That’s a surefire way to gaslit yourself into thinking … “hmmm, is it possible I found a hidden, camp gem here, a future midnight showing cult-classic?” But then you remember, nope, it’s just that bad. I don’t deserve to be the only one to remember this piece of shit of a movie, and if Richard Ayoade can write a whole book about View from the Top, I think I can write an article on Sorry If I Call You Love (2014).
The premise: This is a love story, a love story that’s supposed to prove how love knows no limits or something, and that two incredibly attractive heterosexual people can find true love in the strangest of circumstances and overcome their differences. Differences such as a 20-year age gap. A 20-year age gap where he is 37 and she is 17.
Here’s the trailer:
You could easily recut that trailer as a Fatal Attraction-style thriller.
A little background: This movie is an adaptation of a novel by Federico Moccia, an Italian romance writer that is hugely popular in his home country and in the Spanish-speaking market. I guess you could say he is the European Union equivalent to Nicholas Sparks? Except his are more teen/young adult-oriented, are edgier, and are based on glamorous Mediterranean cities instead of mosquito-infested backwaters in the South that we have to pretend are folksy and charming even though they probably voted for the former guy because of the racism. And there’s plenty more sex.
Sorry If I Call You Love was first adapted for the Italian market by Moccia himself in 2008, in a tone closer to a Romantic-Comedy and more … TV-Movie looking. The Spanish-language adaptation was supposed to be a more official, bigger-budget adaptation. It landed with a resounding thud at the Spanish and Latin American box office, probably because people realized IT’S ABOUT A 17 YEAR-OLD GIRL FALLING IN LOVE WITH A 37 YEAR-OLD MAN.
It only goes downhill from there.
The guy’s name is Alex (Daniele Liotti), a stupidly handsome and successful publicist working at a glamorous agency in Barcelona. He was ready to settle down and propose to his age-appropriate girlfriend, but she wasn’t and left him. So, dear readers, what do you think he did next?
a) Cry for a while, to then move on by embracing life as a hot single guy in a city known for having scenes for everyone and populated by hot people with accents hotter than the stereotypical Spanish?
b) Fall into a deep creative and emotional rut for months, one that can only be cured by a Manic Pixie Dream Girl?
I mean, you know the answer is b), and admittedly, it is understandable to be heartbroken. But like … you have a high-paying job. In Spain. In the mid-2010s. Count your blessings man.
The girl’s name is Niki (Paloma Bloyd). Just Niki, because they always keep the names from the Italian version, which don’t really fit in the Spanish language, but whatever. We are told she is a “very mature” 17-year-old girl, even though she acts her actual age. Everything she does is normal for a 17-year-old. She has a group of cute girlfriends who call themselves “The Waves” that do stuff like talking about how their first time went, over and over again, like a ritual. As you might expect, they are only characterized by function: There’s the one that sleeps around, the romantic one … two other ones and Niki, who recently broke up with her age-appropriate f—kboy, and is still a virgin.
They have their meet-cute through romantic-movie plot device Nº 35, a car crash… or scooter vs. SUV, to make it even more twee. From here on we tear open an overstuffed bag of problematic that doesn’t stop leaking until the end of the movie. Niki demands a ride from Alex to school while they exchange insurance information, and she immediately starts doing MPXDG stuff while throwing glances at a mostly annoyed Alex. Yes, in order to clear our hero from any suspicion of impropriety, she is the one that pursues him, using all sorts of pretexts (basically, insurance and mechanic errands) to go on dates with him. After a few tries, they fall in love and sleep together in his bachelor pad. Cue a montage of them doing romantic stuff.
Here’s where I need to clarify that 16 is the age of consent in Spain, because one of the characters straight out says it just to reassure the audience. But as we should know by now, something being legal doesn’t mean something is right. Fracking is legal. The fact that they never tell anything to her parents until the very end probably betrays the fact that no, this isn’t really right.
Oh, and the character that clears the air on the legality of the romance is Alex’s best friend, Pedro, a chronically unfaithful lawyer who works as comic relief.
Many episodic things happen in order to pad out the runtime of the movie, never framed in the proper tone: Alex’s friends (all 40-something) have a meet-up with Niki’s friends at an amusement park, where Pedro hits it off with the friend who sleeps around (who of course is also into older guys), but just happens to run into his wife and kids. Her friends sow doubts in Niki, leading to a jealousy scene when she finds him with a pregnant woman at a restaurant. His sister. Alex picks up Niki at a club, where they run into her fuckboy ex, who punches Alex. They have a short break up but get back together after one of her friends has a serious accident. And then… Alex takes Niki to Paris on a romantic weekend for her 18th birthday. Her friends cover for them telling her parents she is staying over with them.
Like, yes, it is legal. BUT YOU’RE STILL A 37-YEAR-OLD TAKING A TEENAGER ACROSS COUNTRY BORDERS FOR A ROMANTIC F—KFEST. EVEN IF THEY ARE EUROPEAN UNION OPEN BORDERS. WITHOUT EVEN TELLING HER PARENTS.
Of course, all of this is framed as twee and dreamy. To top of this mountain of sh*tty tropes, she becomes the free-spirited inspiration that resparks Alex’s creativity, helping his agency win a perfume contract … using pictures of Niki he takes while she sleeps (she loves it).
If you haven’t punched your screen yet, hold it in. It gets worse. His ex-girlfriend returns to get him back … and Alex takes her in, breaking Niki’s heart.
If anything, this would be the more realistic outcome for this relationship: An older guy strings a very young girl along for months, has fun, she thinks it’s even more for realsies because he’s the mature one… and then she is dumped for an older woman. Of course, this is a facile, cookie-cutter romantic movie; they aren’t just going to give us an ambiguous, downer ending: After a few months of being miserable with his ex, they break up and he goes after Niki, who has spent that time plunged into a depression. She jumps at the chance, meeting each other at a “special romantic place” that was barely set up. Also, her parents are surprisingly understanding, because oopsie! we are just at the two-hour mark with no time to throw a real complication into the story.
There’s actually a sequel, Sorry But I Want to Marry You, but thankfully we’ll never get it. This is a movie that flopped so hard you can easily find it on YouTube in its entirety, and it deserves it.
Now, why am I so obsessed with this turd? Because I am shocked it got made in the first place. Twice. That should cover it. But if I had to come up with a deeper reasoning … I guess it does speak to me as a straight guy in his 30s? who still feels like a 20-something? But is realizing his emotional responsibilities towards those who are younger than me?
In Chile, relationships between very young girls and older men are still normalized, and not just as a result of abject poverty, or a 20-year-old dating a 17-year-old. You see it in the upper classes too. I distinctly remember this locally famous, very posh 16-year-old model dating a 26-year-old guy, and plenty of stuff like that. And of course, I was always resentful of those dudes in a borderline incel-y way, but it’s not like there wasn’t a point to it. Not like it was all for moot, my social skills were hindered by crippling anxiety, diagnosed OCD and a very probable, light ASD. Thanks a lot guys! (just f—king with you, you know I love you neurodivergence!). But now, as a thirty-something who is this close to getting his sh*t together enough to give dating a chance … what is my responsibility towards younger women (OVER 20, ALWAYS OVER 20) that might potentially be attracted to me? It’s one thing to have flings and fun, and everyone should have flings and fun and experiment with different types of people, as long as both are into it. But when it comes to actual relationships? No one in their late teens and twenties should be tagging along someone nearing forty who is looking to start a family, but many guys my age and older take advantage of the emotionally unexperienced, many times without realizing because they themselves are emotionally undeveloped.
Whatever, if any editor is reading, allow me to pitch this same premise, but one in which the older dude says no and instead becomes a lifelong friend and counsel to the young girl.
Alberto Cox is composed primarily of anxiety, being a Bad Socialist and impostor syndrome, and writing for Pajiba might be his first honest use of his English Lit Bachelor. Also, he’s ladened with lapsed Catholic Guilt, but not the one about sex, the Jesuit one about whether you’re doing something about the state of the World and stuff.
He lives in Chile, which many times he mistakes with a personality, but so do his other 19 million fellow nationals. Living there isn’t useful for his anxiety, considering massive earthquakes don’t even phase Chileans.
You can find more of him at @ThisAlbertoCox in Twitter and @autos.heroiques in the ‘Gram. He’ll be easily won over if you talk to him about Joaquín Sabina in English and about Oscar gossip in Spanish.