Four people–two young pals and two older strangers–learn a lot about themselves, each other and life in general when they’re stuck together over a lazy afternoon in Fernando Eimbcke’s slight but sweetly amusing, and sometimes quite touching, “Duck Season.” This Mexican charmer is like a John Hughes picture with a Spanish accent; you might be inclined to think of it as a new “Breakfast Club,” although from the time of day brunch would provide a more appropriate reference and at least one plot turn–involving a girl’s forgotten birthday–calls to mind “Sixteen Candles” instead.
In terms of conventional plot, there’s not a great deal of action, but plenty of undercurrents. Big-haired, eager Moko (Diego Catano) and lanky, sullen Flama (Daniel Miranda) are a couple of teens left alone by the latter’s mother in their apartment to play video games while she goes off to a party; it could be, it’s eventually revealed, their last afternoon together, since Flama might be moving away the next day. Their game is interrupted first by Rita (Danny Perea), a slightly older neighbor who asks to use the oven to bake a cake, since hers is broken. (It’s supposed to be her birthday cake, of course.) Then a power outage occurs, and the boys decide to order a pizza. But when delivery man Ulises (Enrique Arreola) arrives at their door–after a harrowing bike ride (and forced to use the stairs since the elevator’s not running)–a few seconds later than the “guaranteed” delivery time, the kids refuse to pay for the food, and he in turn refuses to leave.
Eventually the three guys agree to play a video game to decide the matter, but another power outage just as a tie is about to be broken leads to a further dispute. Meanwhile Moko wanders off to the kitchen to help Rita with the baking–eventually winding up with not only a kiss but some Alice B. Toklas-style brownies–while Flama and Ulises remain in the living room, alternately arguing and revealing their feelings, the boy about his parents’ divorce and the man about his unhappy job history. There’s also a brief aside in which Moko indicates that sometimes he feels drawn to Flama. The title of the film comes from a painting hanging on the wall of the apartment–a cheap outdoor scene showing some ducks in flight over a lake–that Flama’s mom and dad are fighting over, which acts as a sort of Rorschach test for the characters as they consume those drug-laced brownies. For some it represents the pain of loss and separation, but for others it expresses the exhilaration of liberation and freedom–two sides of the same coin.
This is admittedly a modest piece, but it affords much pleasantly deadpan humor while also touching on deeper emotional currents. The cast is affable across the board, the director and editor work together nicely to create an atmosphere of shambling indolence while keeping the picture to a spiffy 87 minutes, and cameraman Alexis Rabe employs an almost spartan style that fits nicely with the artful simplicity of story and setting.
“Duck Season” may be small and somewhat precious, but it’s much more inventive and enjoyable than most pictures with a budget a hundred times larger.