I approached seeing "Under the Same Moon" in the customary manner I approach all movies that contain the words "with subtitles."
You can still see the grooves my heels made as my wife dragged me into the theater.
I emerged with the opinion that if there is only one illegal immigration/mother-son reunion movie you can see this Mother's Day, this would be the one.
Sundance enthusiasts will no doubt remember "Under the Same Moon" as one of the huge success stories of 2007. No sooner had the film made its Kleenex-box-emptying Park City debut than Mexican filmmaker Patricia Riggen was being courted by men in limos carrying cell phones.
"Seriously, they were circling with the car around the condo, and storming in and opening doors and spying, to listen to what's going on. Had we made a deal or not? Just a very beautiful night," Riggen told the Washington Post.
Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Company won the bidding war, paying $5 million for the movie "Not bad for an indie film, in Spanish, with no big American stars," the Post concluded.
Everything's subjective, of course, and just because your film has been bought by a major studio that releases it nationally in the spring of 2008 just before Mother's Day doesn't mean everyone is going to like it, or take it the way you intended.
"An 'Incredible Journey' for the socially conscience-stricken," reviewed the New York Times, snidely recapping the story of a single mother, Rosario, who leaves her young son, Carlito, in Mexico with his grandmother while she crosses the border illegally to find much-needed work in Los Angeles, only to have 9-year-old Carlito follow her illegal route when his grandmother dies, encountering no end of obstacles, and, as the Times puts it, "nasty gringos," in the process.
"'Under the Same Moon' is too busy sanctifying its protagonists and prodding our tear ducts to say anything remotely novel about immigration policies or their helpless victims. The filmmakers know that middlebrow movie audiences prefer their thorny social issues served lite ... an opportunity to shed happy tears and enjoy a guilt-free drive home to the (let us hope, legal) baby sitter," concluded the Times review, joining a chorus of negative criticism of a film that, as "Variety" observed, "wraps the political hot potato of illegal immigration in the sentimental balm of a mother-son drama."
Luckily, I didn't read any of these reviews until after I watched the movie, which I must say I thoroughly, in a middlebrow sort of way, enjoyed.
Maybe "Under the Same Moon" does obfuscate the serious problems of illegal immigration with sanguine sentimentality. Maybe it does glorify the lawbreakers and vilify the rule-keepers. Maybe its illegals all look like movie stars and their clothes manage to stay clean no matter how many benches they sleep on.But blow past all that and what's left is a story about motherhood knowing no borders. Maybe that's all the movie is trying to say. Maybe that's why its release coincides with Mother's Day. And subtitles or not, it says it very well.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.