Israeli writer/director Eytan Fox made his international reputation through serious takes on gay life in a macho society with Walk on Water (2005) and the duo of Yossi & Jagger (2002) and Yossi (2012). But with Cupcakes, it seems he really just wants to have fun making episodes of Glee for grown-ups, like in his more substantive and musical miniseries Mary Lou (2012).
The kitschy nonsense of the annual Eurovision Song Contest is now an exaggerated American Idol-like spectacle on a continental scale and ripe for satire in how 50-plus countries eagerly homogenize their popular music in order to win. (Back in the day, winners included Abba, Celine Dion, and Julio Iglesias.)
Shy blogger Keren (Keren Berger) narrates about the goings-on of her neighbors she observes in her Tel Aviv apartment building as they get ready to watch the contest finals. Among the residents, lovely restless housewife Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar) advises her busy lawyer husband (Lior Ashkenazi, a regular in Fox’s films, in a small role). From an observant, politically active family, Dana (Dana Ivgy, of Zero Motivation) is the harried spokeswoman for the blowhard Minister of Culture. Meanwhile, the gigs of rocker-wannabe Efrat (Efrat Dor), with a blonde curly mane, are not attracting an audience, despite the efforts of her curly maned black girlfriend/manager. Cupcake baker Anat (Anat Waxman) has separated from her husband and quarrels with her teen son, while her daughter’s gay kindergarten teacher, Ofer (Ofer Shechter), introduces his class to the joys of cross-dressing and pushes his boyfriend, Asi (Alon Levi), the handsome spokesman of his family’s humus company, to come out.
When these tenants get together to watch and mock the TV show (like the parties Fox’s parents used to host), they end up banding together to cheer up Anat by expanding on Efrat’s pleasantly catchy song that Ofer films and uploads. It goes viral, similar to what happened to friends of the director. Before you know it, the neighbors have entered the contest and are placed in the hands of handlers, all determined to turn them into the perfect candidates.
This comic froth makes a few gentle jabs, but it feels more like the same triumph of the be-true-to-thyself mantra of the TV’s high schoolers, along with the predictable romance and similar family conflict resolutions. (It’s a nice touch, though, that Dana gets the group to say a prayer together before the final.) Nevertheless, the music by Babydaddy, of the Scissor Sisters, is entertaining pop, but not at all memorable. Ironically, Israel’s actual participation in the Eurovision Song Contest has been more interesting, with transgender performer Dana International winning in 1998 with the song “Diva,” and the country then declining the usual honor of hosting the next year to avoid the expense and bother. After several years on the international Jewish and LGBT festival circuit, Cupcakes arrives in theaters as a too-sweet dessert with little filling.