Let there be no mistake about the source of the central conflict in the brazenly titled My Mother Likes Women, a Spanish movie co-written and co-directed by Daniela Fejerman and Inés Paris: This is the story of Sofia -- a concert pianist, and the mother of three grown daughters -- and what happens to her family when she introduces her children to her new lover, Eliska, a lithe young Czech pianist of the daughters' generation.
Two decades after Spain's liberation from Catholicism and Franco, just think of My Mother Likes Women as Almodovar Lite, a movie that further tests the limits, if tamely, of Spanish tolerance. It's briskly played, benignly amusing, and uncomplicated -- foursquare in favor of love, ecology and dumping your fascist lawyer husband. Along the way of its characters' life lessons, it travels to Prague and gradually morphs into a quasi-Czech film as much as a Spanish one.
Sofia's distressed daughters, each named after a character in El Cid (Daddy's idea), have different reactions to their handsomely aged mother's late-life switch-hitting. Jimena, the oldest, has nothing against lesbians but thinks Mom is just being selfish. Sol, the youngest, who has streaked fire-engine-red hair and plays in a punky rock band, says lesbianism is hip and everyone's doing it.
But timid middle daughter Elvira (Leonor Watling of Almodovar's Talk to Her) sees it as another blow to her miserable life. In an American movie, she would be the one who breaks a heel and spills food at a fashionable party: unlucky with men, working for a small publishing firm, in therapy for her neuroses, and desperate to become a writer like her commanding father, a scholar who's coolly sanguine about his ex-wife's situation. ("Haven't you read Sappho?" he tells Elvira, then takes a bad translation from his bookshelf to enlighten her.)
So naturally the daughters set out to do what any girls would do to a disapproved-of relationship: They decide to break it up, and ultimately to use Elvira as bait. They concoct their plan over a cocktail they share with three long red straws, and which the directors photograph through the bottom of the glass as the girls slurp up their last drops of courage.
Fejerman and Paris play this all rather light-heartedly, somewhere between situation comedy and a warm fuzzy hour-long American TV series like Providence or Ally McBeal. Elvira and her problems are more the centerpiece of the story than is Sofia (Rosa Maria Sardá, another Almodovar alumna), and of course the interloper Eliska ends up teaching the women valuable new things about themselves. ("Either you jump into the pool," she tells Elvira, "or you always watch others swim.") Throw in a few piano solos to underscore the emotions and you have a pleasant, positive, didactic mujer-flick, in Spanish, with subtitles.