Look, you have to go into ¿Qué culpa tiene el karma? (Don’t Blame Karma) with every ounce of your incredulity suspended. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s probably getting quite the workout these days, so what’s the harm in giving it a little hour and twenty-five minute rest so you can enjoy this movie more? If you do that, this is mostly a fine movie to watch when your brain needs a rest and a distraction. It’s moderately entertaining, things work out as expected, no one is particularly cruel, and the sexism here is extremely low.
When she was young, in a fit of jealousy, Sara blew out the candles on her sister Luci’s birthday cake and declared, “I stole your wish.” Not easily bulldozed, little Luci responded that she would “steal all of your wishes forever.” And just like that, Sara tells us, her fate was sealed. Luci had all the luck and Sara was cursed to a life where nothing ever goes her way. You might be thinking, But this isn’t exactly karma, is it? And to that I say, Please. We’re not using our critical thinking skills right now. Sara was so desperate to get away from Luci that she even changed high schools, thinking that would break the curse. For a while it seemed to work. She met Aarón, a boy with a band with whom she spent all her time. But then, instead of smashing his lips on hers, Aaron called her his “best friend” and soon after moved far away. Sara was devastated.
Now, Sara (Aislinn Derbez) lives in Mérida in her grandmother’s crumbling house, where she runs a small store that sells the tourist t-shirts she designs. She works alongside her friend and confidant Sacnité (Miriam de Jesús Chi Chim), who thinks Sara needs to stop settling and moping and do more with her life. But Sara refuses to pursue her life-long dream of becoming a clothing designer because she’s sure the curse will just screw it up anyway. Or, could it be that maybe she’s just afraid of failing? Luci (Renata Notni), on the other hand, has become a world famous model, beloved by people all around the world. Aarón (Gil Cerezo), too, has had great success with his solo singing career, though he’s singing music that’s vastly different from the songs that made Sara’s knees weak in high school.
Seemingly by surprise, Luci and their parents show up to stay with Sara. While their father (Mauricio García Lozano) is busy asking Sara why she isn’t keeping up the repairs on her grandmother’s house and their mother (Carmen Madrid) is defending her interest in “the idea” of taking a lover, Luci suddenly announces that she’s engaged. Everyone is mostly confused. Her mother wants to know if she’s pregnant and why she couldn’t have waited until Sara finally found someone. Sara does have a perfectly fine boyfriend, Roberto (Giuseppe Gamba), who she probably doesn’t really love, and who lives far away, so they mostly communicate over crappy video connections. In all the chaos, they don’t even manage to get Luci’s fiancé’s name, but I bet you can guess where this is going anyway.
The next day, while Sara is wandering around her kitchen in her grubby clothes with her hair a mess, stuffing pineapple in her mouth, who should wander into her house but Aarón, all grown up, but still making her heart go pitter-pat-pat. She’s shocked. He’s shocked. And I know this will shock your socks off, but it turns out that Luci and Aarón are engaged to be married. Now, if we hadn’t turned off our incredulity, we might wonder how it would be humanly possible for Aarón and Luci to NOT have realized their shared connection. Sure, sure, Luci and Sara went to different schools, but Aarón was her best friend, yet he never met Luci? He never heard her name? She never heard his name or saw his face? But we have turned it off, so we’re just going to assume that Aarón and Luci don’t have meaningful conversations and never exchanged last names. I mean, they have only known each other for a little while, so it’s possible. Obviously, Roberto is also going to show up, and he will, of course, be kind and well-meaning, but stodgy and ill-suited to Sara.
Luci and Aarón convince Sara to connect with a guy they know and get her designs into a local fashion week. Sara is resistant because she believes so strongly in the Karma-curse-fucked-luck situation, but she’s eventually convinced. Meanwhile, she and Aarón are reconnecting, often over many drinks, and reminiscing about their high school days. There are a plethora of flashbacks to young Sara and Aarón clearly being infatuated with each other, but always missing the opportunity to seal the deal, as it were. As much as Sara still wants Aarón and Aarón wants Sara, neither of them will act on their feelings because they both care deeply about Luci. Of course, Sara still believes that Luci is out to get her, due to that one incident decades ago. I think even if we turn our incredulity back on here, we can imagine someone convincing themself of that kind of thing, right? Our insecurities are capable of persuading us to believe the absolute wildest lies, and if Sara never took the time to talk to Luci after that—or maybe went to see a therapist—well, you can imagine her spiraling into this dark place.
At the same time, Luci and Sara are reconnecting with each other in ways they haven’t since they were young children. Luci wants Sara to design her wedding dress, which, obviously, Sara is very reluctant to do for lots of reasons, but mostly the whole curse thing. While this is certainly a rom-com, the story of rekindling the friendship and love between Sara and Luci is equally important. But, no, you may not ask how that works when one is betrothed to a man that the other has been in love with since she wore braces. It just does.
There’s a lot of focus on the fact that Sara is the captain of her own destiny and that it’s her decisions, not luck or karma, that have impacted her life thus far. And while that’s a lovely message, I wouldn’t like for anyone to take it to the extreme. It seems like quite a lot of luck, connections, and other things beyond her control are at play in her eventual success. Certainly it’s important that she gets out of her own way, but she could have spent the last however many years working her ass off and still not have made it big. Your decisions are great, but they’re not the only deciding factor in what happens in life. NOT that I am saying that any of it depends on the wish you did or didn’t make on some birthday candles. I would have several ponies and a Barbie Dream House if it did.
The subplot that I could have done without is the parents. It could have been so much worse, but the whole idea of the mother suggesting an open relationship or meeting some guy on Facebook just to get her husband to pay attention to her again makes everything smell like curdled milk. Inciting jealousy to get your partner to show renewed interest? I hate it. Burn it with fire. And talk about bad Karma!
The movie also relies heavily on flashbacks and montages, not just to when Sara and Aarón were teenagers, but also scenes that happened five minutes ago in the movie. I just don’t feel like I can whip up nostalgia for something that recent, even if you put it in slo-mo. That said, Sara and Aarón are pretty endearing together—though my favorite character is Sacni, whose dry humor and deadpan delivery add much to the movie. She and Sara could have a spin-off movie about their adventures in running a tourist t-shirt shop in Mérida and I would happily watch the entire thing. Probably.
Still, when Aarón, Sara, and a bartender listen to one of his biggest hits, I played it twice and snorted with laughter both times: “I’m gonna chew you up, girl. Nom, nom, nom. You’re my bubblegum. You’re my cinnamon gum. You’re spicy, but delicious.” (The lyrics sound far and away better and worse in Spanish.)
Listen, this movie has its flaws, but it certainly doesn’t deserve the abysmal 4.5 rating it currently has on IMDb. I mean, the fact that someone involved in its making really gets the beauty of terrible-but-incredibly-catchy pop lyrics should be reason alone to give it a higher rating!