posted by EC Stacey
Team Seth is back to give us her thoughts on Chris Weitz’s new movie!
HOW TO FOLLOW UP SPARKLY VAMPIRES? A WONDERFUL MOVIE ABOUT IMMIGRATION
So, A Better Life has nothing to do with the supernatural, but it’s directed by Chris Weitz, who has experience directing vampires, werewolves, and ice bears. I’d say that’s supey enough. Chris wrangled up the New Moon gang again for the task: editor Peter Lambert, composer Alexandre Desplat, and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe. I may or may not have a mini-crush on all of these talented men, but it’s justified (and more like how I crush on Francisco Goya and Mark Twain). These men all do impressive work and they love what they do…which to me is undeniably attractive.
The film tells the tale of an illegal immigrant, Carlos Galindo, living in Los Angeles struggling to give his son Luis the life he never had. The passion of the filmmakers and cast is rather apparent in the heart-breaking and thought-provocative impact of the film. You will not leave this film feeling uplifted (and you’ll likely need to fix your mascara in the bathroom), but you will leave feeling better for having seen it. And not in the pretentious manner of conceit one feels after making an obscure book purchase at an independently-owned used book store.
When the film plays off your emotions, it’s due to its strong acting, smart pacing, and a lack of caricatures. In this interview with ReThink, Chris states: “I think it’s hard to point the camera at someone without showing sympathy for them. In that regard, we’re sympathetic toward Demián Bichir’s character. Especially for the amazing performance he gives.” And what a performance! Bichir (Weeds, Che), who plays Carlos, takes his character arc to heart and gives an Oscar-worthy performance. José Julián, a newcomer who plays Luis, seems flat at first, but that’s the point. As we follow the father-son relationship–the true focus of the film–Julián really kicks it up a notch. By the time Luis asks his dad, “Why did you have me?” you want to tell him you love him and give him a big hug, rather than knock him upside the head.
Chris went through extensive efforts to make the film “authentic”, I encourage you to watch the aforementioned interview and read this article (http://www.jewishjournal.com/the_ticket/item/an_immigrant_struggles_for_a_better_life_for_his_son_20110531/) to learn about what they were (start at para. 12). Chris does this. It’s his thing. In New Moon, he made sure the First Nations’ kids did a walk-through of the Quileute sets to give the nod that they are true to life. This dedication to authenticity is what I most admire Chris for, and A Better Life serves to showcase his knack for the small, but important details.
My critiques? I thought the climax was brilliant without music, but they add in a bit at the height of it. The actors made this scene perfect; there was no need for any music. The script called for the characters to translate whatever phrase they’d just said in Spanish into English. As a sometimes bilingual writer, I know you have to do this. Not everyone speaks Spanish, and of course the longer bits are subtitled, but it kept driving me nuts. Third and final critique is that the Charro performance montage went on a touch longer than necessary and that took me out of the film.
Chris told me if A Better Life doesn’t rock that he was done making movies. I hope he doesn’t stop. I also hope that he doesn’t go back to ‘epic series,’ which I believe he has a distaste for anyway. His ability to tell an honest and compelling story is refreshing and truly sets him apart.
I can’t say much more about this film without boring you with excessive details. Just go see it before it leaves town.
98 min. running time. Select U.S. theaters (which seem to change weekly, so double check before you go!). Opens July 29 in UK and Ireland.
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