Sunday, April 13, 2008

Under the Same Moon

Under the Same Moon could have been a charming and heartwarming tale about a young boy's journey to be reunited with his mother in America, but the story about the separated mother and child suffers from a bit of one-sided political ideology and a definite "anti-Gringo" mentality. There are a series of contrived incidents, which should have been about propelling the narrative of the story, but instead are meant to highlight the hardships of the illegal immigrant. The stereotypical harrowing border crossing, the INS raid on a tomato farm, the arrogant and bitchy white employer. With very few exceptions, Americans are portrayed as the heavies and Latinos as noble, hard-working, long-suffering martyrs.

In one sequence, the film highlights the hardship Rosario (Kate del Castillo) must suffer due to California not enacting a law that would allow illegal immigrants to drive legally. Poor Rosario is forced to take the bus! That is a hardship in L.A. where public transit is lacking, but wait--didn't we learn earlier that Rosario is pinching pennies to send money back for her son Carlitos in Mexico? That she sews prom dresses to earn enough money to pay an immigrant lawyer to help her get her green card? How would she even be able to afford a car if she needs another $1,700 to pay the lawyer--much less registration, insurance and gas? The film also doesn't show the flip side of the coin--that many illegal immigrants drive illegally all the time, and when they get into accidents, the other driver is left to foot the bill since most are uninsured.

Issues like that serve to detract from the film, but the performance of little Adrian Alonso as the plucky, determined Carlitos gives the story its charm and depth. There's a scene where Carlitos meets his father for the first time in Tucson that's effortlessly evocative. In unison, the two remove tomatoes from their hamburgers, request ketchup and refuse mustard, illuminating the genetic ties neither was ever aware of. Unfortunately, moments like these were far fewer than the more stilted ones with expository dialogue and stereotypical situations and characters. But while the beginning of the movie is beset with contrived coincidences, the events leading to the inevitable reunion are very well-crafted--classic good screenwriting.

As a resident of Southern California which boasts Hispanics as its largest minority ethnic group, I can see readily the results of the influx of illegal immigrants. And while serious changes to U.S. immigration policies need to be made, perhaps the economic opportunities of countries like Mexico need re-structuring as well. Especially given the fact that the prime motivation for coming to America (at least as portrayed in this movie) is in order to make a living. As the story of a little boy who wants nothing more than to be with his mother, Under the Same Moon manages to work its charms much in the same manner that Carlitos softens up the crusty Enrique (Eugenio Derbez), but as an indictment of the American immigration system it falls short in its heavy-handed and lopsided portrayal of reality.

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