Under the Same Moon - La Misma Luna
|Gustavo Sanchez Parra||Manuel|
|Jacqueline Voltaire||Mrs. McKenzie|
|Carmen Salinas||Dona Carmen|
|Directed by||Patricia Riggen|
Lou Dobbs, grab your hankie. This trite but touching tale of a little boy and his mother separated by our southern border comes timed perfectly to put a human face on the immigration issue as election-year politicians bloviate about building fences and saving America from the scourge of the illegal workers cleaning our houses, picking our vegetables, and minding our children.
Nine-year-old Carlitos (Adrian Alonso) lives in a Mexican village with his grandmother Benita (Angelina Peláez). His mother Rosario (Kate del Castillo) slipped across the border four years ago. She is working as a domestic in Los Angeles, and sending money home. Every Sunday, as religiously as church, she calls Carlitos from a pay phone in LA to a pay phone in his village, to tell him how much she loves and misses him. "Whenever you feel lonely," she tells him, "look at the moon, and know that I will be looking at it too."
It‘s the little boy’s birthday, and two things happen to trigger our disaster radar. His scheming Uncle Manuel (Gustavo Sanchez Parra), the brother of the father who took off before Carlitos was born, starts making nice. Manuel only wants custody of the cash that arrives from Rosario every month. The second warning signal is that Grandma coughs. When that happens in a story like this, you can order the flowers.
Grandma dies. Carlitos, who works part-time for the local coyote (or border-crossing facilitator), Dona Carmen (Carmen Salinas), uses his savvy and connections to head for el norte before he falls into Uncle Manuel’s clutches. He pays a Mexican-American brother and sister (Jesse Garcia, and Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera in a cameo) to smuggle him across. But things go wrong, and suddenly he’s on the U.S. side and on his own. And he has to get to LA by Sunday and find his mother before she makes that phone call.
The story swings back and forth between the misadventures of Rosario and Carlitos. Rosario gets fired by her employer Mrs. McKenzie (Jacqueline Voltaire), a bitchy harridan known in the neighborhood as Cruella de Vil. (The Anglos in this movie tend toward caricature, but then we’re seeing them from a subjective viewpoint). Rosario’s options are limited: find another job, marry a guy with a green card, or go back home. The green card candidate is already in line – he’s a handsome and extraordinarily decent chap named Paco (Gabriel Porras) – but Rosario’s not the kind of girl who marries without love.
Meanwhile Carlitos is making his way toward LA. He dodges trouble by luck and by pluck, and eventually he hooks up with a fellow illegal, a grouchy loner named Enrique (Mexican superstar Eugenio Derbez). Enrique tries to shake the little runt, but we all know how that story goes, if we’ve seen any of the dozens of movies that have used the same device.
But originality is not what director Patricia Riggen and screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos have bet on in Under the Same Moon. There are many familiar strains here, trips down memory lane from Chaplin’s silent classic The Kid to The Incredible Journey, a 1963 movie about three pets finding their long way home. What these filmmakers are after is your heartstrings. And thanks to a fine cast, they play them like a Stradivarius.
Alonso gives Carlitos a gutsy combination of innocence, wit, optimism, and resourcefulness. He sometimes seems almost like a middle-aged midget, but the actor is actually a pint-sized thirteen, playing nine. Alonso’s chipper demeanor saves the movie from drowning in its own tears more than once.
Del Castillo’s beauty is another plus, and she gives us a Rosario who would be equally at home in a Mexican telenovela or an old-fashioned melodrama. Her character is awfully good and noble, but you do wonder why she doesn’t save up some of the money she’s been sending home and use it to get Carlitos into the country. She’s been away almost half his life, and there comes a point when you’d think the importance of seeing her son grow up would have to trump the income advantages of The Land of Opportunity.
Porras’s Paco, the handsome security guard who loves her, is a bit too good to be true. An irascible portly middle-aged plumber might have put Rosario’s agony of decision into better focus. And when it turns out Paco can dance, well, there’s very little more to be said. Derbez adds a welcome note of astringency as Carlitos’s reluctant guardian angel.
Under the Same Moon goes nowhere you don’t expect it to go. It sets up hurdles and leaps them effortlessly, and brings us all home safe and sound. If it didn’t, we’d probably storm the projection booth. It was a favorite at Sundance, where it brought audiences to their feet cheering. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, with its formulas and its sap, but if it can get Lou Dobbs reaching for that Kleenex, it will have done its job.
© Text 2008 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be