Double Feature
A Better Life (2011), Cherry (2010)

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This week finds me having watched two notable films, the first, A Better Life, dealing with an important sociological/political issue that all the political candidates (that I've seen anyway) try to deal with without considering that immigrants are, actually, you know, people. The second movie is a 'coming of age' movie in which a brilliant (and virginal) boy goes to Ivy League super college and learns about women, sex, and friendship... even family. Cherry is low budget, yet has good writing and a couple of good performances.

A Better Life ___________ 8.5

A Better LifeStory by Roger L. Simon
Screenplay by Eric Eason
Directed by Chris Weitz

Demián Bichir ... Carlos Galindo
José Julián ... Luis Galindo
Eddie 'Piolin' Sotelo ... Himself
Joaquín Cosio ... Blasco Martinez
Nancy Lenehan ... Mrs. Donnely
Gabriel Chavarria ... Ramon
Bobby Soto ... Facundo
Dolores Heredia ... Anita

Too early for quotes to be listed on the IMDb page, and many of them are in Spanish in subtitles. But the mix of humorous and poignant dialog is especially remarkable and immediate.

This small bilingual movie is the ultimate send up of father and son love in the context of the Southern California 'illegal' culture. From the gitgo we follow Carlos (Demián Bichir) as he rides shotgun in landscaping bossman Blasco's (Joaquín Cosio) big ol' truck from the poor East LA neighborhoods across town to the homes of the extremely well-to-do. Carlos is the lead worker, and he shines in the major task of trimming palm trees: this entails actually walking up the tree a hundred feet in the air with a special harness and heavy spiked boots, quite dangerous. But Blasco and Carlos are two of perhaps millions of undocumented cash-economy day-labor/businessmen who don't bother with insurance or IRS reporting forms.

Or even driver's licenses. Blasco is more established and does have a license... and registration for the truck. But Carlos, having arrived from Mexico undocumented 15 years ago, has spent hundreds of dollars supposedly to get his 'papers' ... but those paper people simply took the money and ran. Somewhere in the first few years, Carlos married and sired Luis (José Julián); the boy's mother left them, and Luis has been raised by Carlos' fully documented and married American-citizen sister Anita (Delores Heredia). Anita is having trouble with the now-early-teen boy, the gangs are starting to influence him, so she sends him to live with his father. Carlos cares for Luis deeply, Luis is really what he lives for, and wants in the worst way for his son to have everything he doesn't have.

Indeed, Carlos' idealism is seen in his eyes as he scales the palm tree and scans the beautiful Malibu coastline. Carlos is the salt of the earth performing the most difficult labor with all the hopes and dreams of any American: to provide 'a better life' for his family. He has ambitions of one day making something of himself, having property, running a successful business, a ranch. Carlos has long been renting a small one-bedroom shack and concedes the bedroom to his son; Carlos is up at dawn, home at dusk, six days a week, barely having time to talk with Luis. You really have the feeling of danger, danger for Carlos being discovered and sent back to Mexico for the slightest gap in documentation.

It's a wonderful story with marvelous acting, and the writer brings alive the tension of raising a son midst all the pressures. A scene many will find completely enchanting is the charro or Mexican horsemen and caballero event, which establishes a shared pride of roots for father and son. Many magic moments, realistically trashing the Latino stereotypes.

Cherry ___________ 6.5

CherryWritten by Jeffrey Fine
Directed by Jeffrey Fine

Kyle Gallner ... Aaron
Laura Allen ... Linda
Britt Robertson ... Beth
Matt Walsh ... Prof.Van Auken
Esai Morales ... Wes
D.C. Pierson ... Wild Bill
Zosia Mamet ... Darcy
Stephanie Venditto ... Aaron's Mom
Kirk Anderson ... Aaron's Dad (Phil)

Phil: [voiceover] Please find enclosed a rendering of the female genitalia. I alert you to the area in red, known as the clitoris. While its location is somewhat counterintuitive, it is the key to female pleasure. Had I known sooner, it might have saved my marriage to your mother.

Aaron: I am sick and tired of everybody telling me what to do. From now on I'm gonna do what I wanna do... as soon as I figure out what that is.

The quotes give you the idea of what Cherry is all about. It's a probably too-accurate look inside modern institutions of higher learning with respect to sex and morals. Who knows, it might even be pulling punches from what I hear young-people's sexual behavior is like these days.[1] Frankly, none of the explicit and unrelenting mindless sex chatter and grope-a-thons is the least bit interesting, much less sexy. There is no there there. No mind, no soul, no sensitivity, no individuality, no romance, zero, zilch, nada. I'm reminded of the dance orgies in The Matrix III movie: Revolutions. Who cares? I feel sorry for young artistic engineering genius Aaron (Kyle Gallner) who not only hasn't yet been with a girl/woman, he has to deal with a pack of continually masturbating Neanderthal-loser dorm rats.

Yikes, how to get away from the teeming collective boneheads?

Well, Aaron happens to run into a hot-though-troubled older woman in one of his art classes, Linda (Laura Allen). It's friendship at first sight, and it took me a while to realize that Linda was actually in her early 30s... with a junior-high age daughter Beth (Britt Robertson). And the sequencing of drama among the three of them, Linda's cop quasi boyfriend Wes (Esai Morales), Aaron's neurotic parents (especially his controlling mother), the dorm boneheads, and even another potential sex interest Darcy (Zosia Mamet) who doesn't shave her armpits, and a few others reminds you of soap opera gruel. It's all right, but I think most viewers, kids included, are going to say, "Way contrived."

There is a thread of young creative invention running through the movie that is worth sticking it out for. The young actors, even the 30-something Linda, are good. Gallner is a notch above Jason Biggs in the American Pie movies, but Cherry isn't intended to be a gross-out bawdy laugher. I would watch it again, but not go out of my way to do so. 6.5/10.

[1] The icing on the cake for me is from what I hear of friends of mine's offspring at normal suburban parties: how the kids dance. With the guy behind the girl, her butt rubbing his crotch, I guess his hands caressing her breasts if they want to. Not exactly out of a romance novel.

2011 November 16
Copyright © Brian Wright | The Coffee Coaster™
A Better Life | East LA Gangs | Cherry | Sex on Campus | Kyle Gallner

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