Under the Same Moon
A 2007 Sundance Film Festival favorite, Under the Same Moon is propelled by an emotional story. After his grandmother's death, 10-year-old Carlitos (played by 14-year-old Adrian Alonso) travels from his native Mexico to reunite with his mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo), who works in California. But his journey is so fraught with lazy storytelling and cloying emotionality that render meaningless its message: Illegal immigrants are people, too.
Anyone on this side of President Bush's border fence doesn't need a movie to tell them that Hispanic immigrants are hard-working people who love their families. Why would Rosario risk injury during the perilous river-crossing opening scene if not for gainful employment to make a better life for her son? Her maternal love is why Rosario puts up with her ridiculously villainous white employer while cleaning her lavish California McMansion. Moon's broad strokes are universal enough for viewers of any stripe to have their heartstrings plucked. The overwrought scenes we have to wade through to get to their inevitable reunion is what makes this indie movie subpar.
For example, the sequence in which Carlitos is smuggled by Ugly Betty's America Ferrera under the bench seat of her caravan could have been rendered with the same suspense that made Babel's border crossing so tense: innocent kids put at risk by an uncaring government policy. Rather than focusing on the boy at stake, Moon offers a cameo by a TV actress who appears bent on making you remember her performance.
After arriving in Texas, Carlitos entrusts his future to the type of junkie cliché The Wire should have made obsolete. Scratching and twitching, the dope fiend eventually tries to sell Carlitos into child sex slavery in the middle of the day on an El Paso street. Thank goodness for the kindhearted abuelita stereotype who comes to his rescue.
The other half of Moon's story, the mother's experience as an undocumented worker, is well done, however. Although Rosario's story is peppered with stock scenarios and characters, del Castillo anchors her character with a reserve of strength that makes you realize exactly where Carlitos gets his derring-do. It is refreshing to see an authentic-looking woman in the role, instead of another Euro-centric starlet trying for a breakthrough performance as a downtrodden single mother. If only director Patricia Riggen had imbued her entire movie with the same care as she did the casting, Under the Same Moon could have transcended its roots and been an American success story. Instead, the message learned is that sentimental cheese comes in south of the border flavor, too.