The brightly-colored kitsch of Almodóvar's previous films was beginning to feel labored and mean-spirited, so it's a pleasant surprise to find him demonstrating considerable versatility in this comparatively serious and somber soap opera. Deftly juggling a variety of different characters and subplots, Almodóvar sets out this time not to provoke, but to probe, and the result is surprisingly tender (though there's still a fair amount of humor -- less frenetic than usual, perhaps, but never completely absent). Performances are uniformly excellent, the narrative features several ingenious surprises (which I won't spoil), and many scenes are genuinely affecting. It feels a bit thin, in the end, a tad too superficial and glossy, but it's a pleasure to watch, and a welcome change in direction from the ugliness of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and High Heels (I passed on Kika).