A much-beleaguered housewife addicted to No-Doze, a drug-dealing son, a crazy mother-in-law with a pet lizard, a son traded to a pedophilic dentist for the bill, a prostitute across the hall, a scheme to forge Hitler’s memoirs, a suicidal low-rent Lotte Lenya, kleptomania, murder (with a soupçon of Hitchcock), even a spot of telekinesis—and more! Almodóvar’s fourth major film, What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984), has a little bit of everything all doled out in finest Almodóvarian soap-opera-on-steroids fashion. More assured dramatically than its immediate predecessor, Dark Habits (1983), but somewhat less slickly produced, the film is an irresistible collection of weird characters and skewed values that almost make sense in context. It’s all a lot like early period John Waters—only better acted and set in Madrid.
As with most Almodóvar at this stage of his career, there’s a certain air of shock for shock’s sake—rather as if he’s seeing if it’s even possible to go too far in post-Franco Spain. Yet, there’s such a good-natured attitude to it all that it’s somehow outrageous without ever being genuinely offensive. The key to this, I think, lies in Almodóvar’s complete refusal to judge his characters. They are who they are. They probably have their reasons, and he lets it go at that. It’s all funny and subversive and terrifically entertaining. It’s not Almodóvar at the height of his powers, but you can see him edging in that direction.