The trailer for Patricia Riggen’s Under the Same Moon boldly proclaims that “not since Cinema Paradiso has a film captured the hearts of audiences around the world [as much as Under the Same Moon].” Given that the movie swiftly came and went in theaters it can safely be said that that proclamation was, at best, wishful thinking on the part of Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Company. Still it makes one wonder why foreign movies are having such a hard time breaking into the mainstream as of late. Pan’s Labyrinth came real close to breaking through two years ago, but never quite became a sensation along the line of Ill Postino or Crouching Tiger. My personal conspiracy theory on this is that the studios are deliberately sabotaging their releases so they can more easily do Hollywood remakes. But that’s a rant for a different day, because no one is going to want to remake this thing, and nor should they. The only reason this was largely ignored is that it’s sappy and manipulative.
The film follows dual stories of a Mexican boy named Carlito (Adrian Alonso) and his mother Rosario (Kate del Castillo) who’s working illegally on the other side of the border in Los Angeles. Rosario has been gone for four years and Carlito’s father has been out of the picture for even longer. Carlito’s only contact with his mother ocurrs when she calls him every Sunday, but after one fateful Sunday call he finds his grandmother dead. With this in mind, Carlito decides to travel alone from his town in Mexico to his mother in L.A. and wants to get there before the next Sunday call is made so his mother won’t worry. After the local coyote refuses to help him Carlito must rely on the kindness of strangers in order to get across the border and reach his mother.
Believability is probably the first o many problems this movie has. Over the years there have been a lot of precocious children on the screen, but it takes a special kind of precociousness for a nine year old to independently think that he can travel hundreds of miles across a foreign border, against all warnings from his elders, alone and on a very limited budget. Many adults are killed or arrested trying to do the same, yet this kid succeeds relatively unscathed. Every time the kid is about to get in trouble the film’s script has him coincidentally run into a random stranger willing to help him, usually at great expense to themselves.
Immigration was a huge issue for about a month last year, now it’s pretty well on the back burner but it remains a controversial subject. This film’s take on the subject is one-sided and simple: all illegal immigrants are saintly figures while everyone who isn’t an illegal immigrant is naïve, mean, or an obstacle. The only American citizens to be found here are nameless brutal cops, fascists with the gall to raid a sleazy tomatoes plantation who “generously” decide to hire a nine year old for dangerous work. Also to found are a pair of Second generation Mexican immigrants who are inept college students incapable of the simplest smuggling actions. But the most offensively un-nuanced of the American characters is a thoroughly witch-like and seemingly senile old rich woman who coldly fires Carlito’s mother for the most minor of offences without even paying for work that’s been completed. Admittedly, the mother’s other boss seemed relatively normal, but one token non-sociopath American character is not enough to make up for this insanely manipulative look at a major issue.
I’m sure one can find many Americans who do act a lot like the above examples, but only selectively choosing those types as examples and juxtaposing them with the saintly illegal immigrants here is intellectually dishonest. If someone like Lou Dobbs decided to produce a movie that featured nothing but lazy, drug dealing, or diseased immigrants people would label it propagandistic or at the very least a gross simplification of a complex issue and rightly so, Under the Same Moon is exactly the same but from a different side.
The film does step off its soapbox and focus strictly on its saccharine story in the third act, but this doesn’t help either because when divorced from its sophomoric politics is still a lame, sappy story. The movie is just as manipulative emotionally as it is politically; its trivialization of human suffering and overbearing score make Frank Capra movies look downright subtle.
This is little more than the hallmark card version of the immigrant experience and it pales in comparison to other better movies on the subject like El Norte, In America, and Maria Full of Grace. The movie was mostly ignored in theaters and should also be avoided on DVD. Speaking of which, the subtitles on the DVD I watched were actually captions, which continued through the film’s English potions and forced the viewer to read through descriptions of sound effects. This annoyance was yet another reason to leave this thing on the DVD shelf.
*1/2 out of four