Judge Katie Herrell swam across the river in the dead of night to bring you this review.
The love between a mother and son knows no boundaries.
The director of Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna) summed it up best when she said in the special feature "The Making of La Misma Luna:" "This is a small, unpretentious film but full of heart."
Facts of the Case
A single mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo), leaves her young son, Carlitos (Adrian Alonso) in Mexico, under the care of his grandmother, so she can illegally emigrate to Los Angeles to make a better life for them all. After several years of separation, and following a traumatic event in Mexico, Carlitos decides to follow his mother across the border but his plan is foiled by border control. As Carlitos journeys towards Los Angeles, Rosario weighs the prospects of returning to her home country.
The sets, the wardrobe, and the soundtrack—all ingredients to a successful film—are secondary to the characters and their story in this film. While many films attempt to portray the story and the characters as the main attraction oftentimes, for a variety of reasons, those efforts fall flat as the glitz, or lack of glitz, that fills out the rest of the film overshadows all else.
This is a movie about people and emotions, and perhaps the best way to critique this film is by critiquing the people who undertake the telling of the story. The best storyteller in this film is also the youngest cast member, the precocious Carlitos/Adrian who, with his cherub face, is a scene stealer. His stout little body carries so much emotion and maturity that it is easy to see why one castmate said he's like an old soul in a young body. It is funny to think that director Patricia Riggen stumbled across Adrian while he was giving a political speech. But the youngster is extremely well-spoken, thoughtful, and intelligent so it is even harder to imagine him whiling away his free time playing video games or t-ball. "The Making of La Misma Luna" showcases two sides of Adrian, the prankster who is always playing practical jokes on his castmates and the precocious little talker who proclaims his love for his on-screen mother Kate, with whom he, sadly, only has one real scene.
Kate, is a much more harnessed actor than Carlitos, which might also mean she has more depth, more layers. While emotions wash over Carlitos' face with ease, Kate's face clouds rather than emotes and it's easy to dismiss her character or acting style as bland or stony. But when one considers the complexities of Rosario's life and the lies and deception she lives with every day, outward emotions become a liability and Kate becomes a master craftswoman of her character.
Revolving around Kate and Carlitos is an ever-changing group of characters, as well as the alternating locales of Mexico and Los Angeles. Carlitos is lured to smuggle himself to the States by Marta (America Ferrara) and David (Jesse Garcia), two siblings trying to pay for college. Unfortunately these characters are never fully developed, and they are one of several instances where it becomes obvious that this movie didn't have the luxury of time and money that some of the big budget, two-hour plus films luxuriate in.
Enrique (Eugenio Derbez) is Carlitos' rag-tag guardian angel and it is a role the normally comedic actor pulls off with aplomb. There is one scene where Carlitos and Enrique duel with each other through song, and despite the potential for extreme cheesiness, the scene is extremely powerful and, according to the director, one of the cast's favorite scenes in the entire film. The makeup/wardrobe on Enrique is pitch perfect as he truly looks like an overworked, overburdened, struggling fellow. I was shocked when I saw a high-gloss photo of the actor on the IMDb website: night and day.
Los Angeles and Mexico are equally as much characters in this film as any of the actors. At the beginning of the film the settings alternate between the two locations, but as the movie progresses more and more of the action takes place in L.A. However, due to budgeting and time, the majority of the film, especially the indoor scenes were shot in Mexico. It was interesting to learn in the special feature the effort required by not only the crew prepping the scene, but the actors themselves, to project the feeling of one location while shooting in another. I never really doubted the locations in the film, although I've never spent considerable time in either place. The wide angle, "Coming to L.A." shot that introduces the city is a legitimate shot as the director felt the cityscape too iconic to try and recreate elsewhere. My only criticism of the camera work is that many of the scenes feel very boxy and closed in, and in hindsight that is because most scenes feature a "stage," in one vein or another, and outside the stage was another country, literally.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is a certain amount of predictability and unbelievability in this film, and those scenes (which, ironically, if I described them would give away much of the story) come off as cliched and cheesy. Perhaps it is because immigration is such a hot media item right now that it is hard to reconcile the real-life stories splashed all over the newspaper, stories that often end with extreme unhappiness for one side or the other, with this scripted story. Despite the efforts to make this film true-to-life I was never able to suspend the feeling that this was a made-up version of reality, and some movies, big and small budget ones, have accomplished that feat.
Under the Same Moon is a true-to-its-roots film about the struggles of Mexicans trying to make a better life in America. Perhaps, that message is most cemented by the cameo granted by Los Tigres del Norte, a popular Mexican band that doesn't perform in films very often. They were drawn to the story-line and its message and agreed to cram themselves into a bus and play away, much to the surprise of everyone involved.
Guilty. And sometimes a film with heart works within its boundaries to transcend time and space.
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• The Making of Las Misma Luna
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