Rainbow-colored and saccharine-sweet, Eytan Fox’s Cupcakes is an aesthetically delightful film that is a remarkable departure from his highly-lauded 2002 drama Yossi & Jagger and its 2011 sequel, Yossi.
All it takes is a flamboyant, tutu-wearing gay man and an acoustic guitar-wielding lesbian, along with an additional foursome of happenstance friends, and Israel’s new national Unisong group—much to their surprise—is born from an impromptu sing-a-long.
Unisong is modeled after Eurovision, that wonderfully kitsch international singing competition that makes American Idol look like a broadcast on C-SPAN. It’s like a glitter-Olympics, where national pride is on display. Fox spoke about the nationalist undertones of the film, which he deliberately attempted to modernize through the inclusion of the LGBT community, in fact, pulling from a historical event: “A milestone took place in Eurovision of 1998. We’re a very nationalistic country and it doesn’t matter what it is—it could be the Olympics, the Nobel Prize or Eurovision—we’re competitive. So in that year, Israel sent a transsexual to Eurovision and that was so controversial. Some said, ‘How can you send a transsexual to represent our ‘holy country’?’ There were some protests, but she still went. Her name was Dana International and she won!”
Indeed, the only moment of this light-hearted comedy that may register some discomfort is one in which someone mentions, to the silence of others, that the only way the diversity of this six-member team could be amplified is if they added “an Arab.”
Fox gathered Israel’s brightest stars for his production: Anat Waxman, Ofer Shechter, Dana Ivgy, Yael Bar-Zohar, Keren Berger, and Efrat Dor, who plays the film’s lesbian character, Efrat. While her solo shows at the coffee houses repeatedly fail to attract audiences, Efrat is reluctant to commercialize herself and her music into the mainstream. With a little persuasion from her gorgeous girlfriend (who seems to be without a name, as a secondary character), she agrees to lead the cohort by both contributing her lyrics and her music to the competition. After a shaky run through the PR-mill, which attempts to de-individualize the group’s members to render them more commercially viable, Efrat and her friends shirk their makeovers and determine to be themselves, setting off to Paris to perform their song how they originally wanted to, without synth-sounds or being auto-tuned.
As Variety noted in its review, “[i]nstead of subverting traditional movie-musical cliches, Fox and co-writer Eli Bijaoui gleefully revel in them” in Cupcakes. And this does not have to suggest that the film lacks craft or entertainment value; in fact, the film reaffirms the need for camp, kitsch, and comedy in its unapologetic indulgence in said “movie-musical cliches.” If you’re looking to spend an evening watching a film that celebrates gay lifestyle rather than melodramatically lamenting it, and if you want a film that affirms even the most ephemeral of life’s pleasures, then Cupcakes is for you.