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Director Mateo Gil (Blackthorn, Realive) makes a brainy, but an ultimately unfulfilling Spanish-language romantic comedy in Netflix‘s The Laws of Thermodynamics, which plots along notions that the permanent universal laws dictate our emotional behaviors as much as our physical lives. Though playful and occasionally bright, the high concept’s never taken into the deep end of the imagination pool to leave a mark. Quite literally, The Laws of Thermodynamics is routinely prone to overthinking.
Burgeoning but anxious astrophysicist Manel (Vito Sanz) exists as a doctorate-seeking assistant. His good friend Pablo (Chino Darin, the son of Roberto, Argentinean star) and girlfriend Raquel (Irene Escolar) also orbit his life. Pivoting on Newton’s force of attraction, Manel has a chance run-in with Elena (Berta Vazquez), a model and wannabe actress, and soon dump-trucks Raquel and her feelings to the side.
Simultaneously, and in a twist, Laws serves also as a legit documentary, with various leading physics professors from mostly Spanish-area institutions featured as themselves. Gil’s cinematography works hard to blend the dramatic science parts with graphical and angle overlays, to middling effect. Where this piece of the film works, it just grazes beyond kitsch: There’s simplistic viewer education into atoms, particle movement, and the space-time continuum. However, the interviews themselves vary in dryness, in a way that makes one wonder if the subjects believed they were doing a documentary from the outset.
With Pablo’s vacillating relationship with Eva (Vicky Luengo) running as a something of a messy control mechanism, Manel’s dalliance with Elena plays on the cliched insecurities-leading-to-destruction throughline, which proves as sturdy as a wet paper bag. You’re never genuinely sold on their chemistry to start.
Gil also introduces the second law of thermodynamics: the concept of entropy, essentially the lack of predictability. Of course, this becomes the O.C.D.-wrecked Manel’s ironic and eventual undoing in his relationship with Elena, and where the flimsy film falls apart. As someone who would be familiar with entropy, and runs his life along the physics’ immutable guidelines, Manel rarely sees anything coming. For a film with so much heavy-handed science, it’s a gaping hole.
While The Laws of Thermodynamics is incredibly well-shot, Gil and his cast don’t dig deep enough holes in the concepts presented. Sanz and Escolar do great work with what’s given, but Darin and Vazquez’s character arcs feel flat and formulaic. Gil’s strictness to high concept overruns the drama, in a film that should garner great appeal and potential.
Netflix has carved a niche this year with not only a revived interest in original, American rom-coms but in global love stories as well with titles like I Am Not An Easy Man, Catching Feelings, Ali’s Wedding, Us and Them, and Maktub. Start with one of those titles before unpacking this clunky, if ambitious, experiment.
Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, LGBT movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad moviesguaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Kahron Spearman is a music and film critic whose work can also regularly be regularly found in the Austin Chronicle.