JoshJurnovoy’s review published on Letterboxd:
Almodovar is a bit of a blind spot for me, as I had never seen one of his films before seeing this one. Luckily, I enjoyed Pain and Glory quite a bit and will definitely work my way back through some of his filmography.
Antonio Banderas is almost as much of a blindspot for me, as the only critically acclaimed thing he had a prominent role in that I had seen was Philadelphia (had seen him in his silly action stuff and heard him in the Shrek movies). Thus, it was really cool to see him just completely kill it in this movie. While nothing super intense or dramatic happens for much of this film, it is still deeply moving because his performance conveys very effectively the great physical and emotional pain Salvador has carried with him throughout his whole life.
I am guessing that if I were not new to Almodovar the stuff involving Salvador's sexuality would have been even more moving to me, but it was still very effective and executed in a heartfelt way. I thought they might turn the scene with Salvador and Federico into something overly melodramatic and instead Almodovar just lets the scene build in a way that just makes the history these characters have bubble to the top along with a lot of emotions in a way that makes it so it feels true to where these people are in their life when the scene ends.
The scenes with young Salvador and Penelope Cruz are quite beautiful as well and it handles the interactions Salvador has with Eduardo in a tasteful way. Overall, I jut really enjoyed seeing Antonio Banderas move through this film and dealing with everyone he crosses paths with. Asier Gómez Etxeandia's performance as Alberto was really interesting as it was apparent that his life had not gone as planned, and I just found it really compelling watching Alberto and Salvador reconnect as Salvador slowly begins to realize it can be good to open up to other people when you are going through everything he is going through in life. A part of this might have been that he was glad to have someone to help him with all of the heroin stuff, but to be honest I am not sure what to make of that part of the movie. I do appreciate that it did not totally turn into a movie about addiction though, as it would have felt much less singular as a movie and more like something I had seen before if that had been to case. Instead, "casual heroin user" is something different I was not used to seeing.