Under The Same Moon (la Misma Luna)
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
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Eugenio Derbez, Kate del Castillo, Adrian Alonso, Maya Zapata, Carmen Salinas
In her feature film debut; director Patricia Riggen weaves their parallel stories into a vividly textured tapestry of yearning and devotion that portrays a child's courage and tenacity; and a mother's sacrifice. Nine-year-old Carlos aka Carlitos (Alonso) is one of the countless children left behind by parents who come to the U.S. seeking a way to provide for their families. His mother; Rosario (del Castillo) has worked illegally as a domestic in Los Angeles for four years; sending money home to her son and mother to give them a chance at a better life. When the death of his grandmother leaves young Carlitos alone; he takes his fate into his own hands and heads north across the border to find his mother. As he journeys from his rural Mexican village to the L.A. barrio; Carlitos faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles with a steely determination and unfettered optimism that earn him the grudging respect and affection of a reluctant protector; a middle-aged migrant worker named Enrique (Derbez). The unlikely pair finds its way from Tucson to East L.A.; but the only clue Carlitos has to his mother's whereabouts is her description of the street corner from which she has called him each Sunday for the last four years. Unaware that Rosario is only hours away from returning to Mexico to be with her son; Carlitos and Enrique desperately comb the vast unfamiliar city for a place he has seen only in his imagination.
Under the Same Moon
puts a human face--several very appealing faces--on the dilemma of Mexican "illegals" living and working clandestinely in the United States and the loved ones back home they're supporting. Rosario, a young single parent, left her village four years ago and jumped the border to find work in Los Angeles; ever since, she and son Carlitos, now nine, haven't seen each other, but she faithfully calls him from the same street-corner pay phone every Sunday morning. When Rosario's mother--the boy's guardian--dies in her sleep, Carlitos taps into an impressive reservoir of street smarts and contrives his own border crossing. The border is just the first of many obstacles to a mother-and-child reunion--not least the fact that the only address the boy has for Rosario is a mental image of the corner she always phones from.
It's easy to take cheap shots at Patricia Riggen's feature-directing debut for tugging at the heartstrings, and certainly Under the Same Moon aspires to nothing like the political and psychological complexity of The Visitor, another film involving illegal immigrants that was released around the same time. But that misses the point, the nature of the mission, and the effectiveness with which Riggen carries it out. Carlitos encounters an almost Dickensian gallery of rogues and menaces, but that's allegorically appropriate for a crossover film (pun unavoidable) aimed at the general U.S. market as well as the Latino circuit. Nor is the movie guilty (as some have charged) of flogging an Anglo-bad/Latino-good poetics; there's opportunism as well as love among Carlitos's neighbors back home, and although Rosario is exploited and cheated by one of the two L.A. households she serves as a maid, the other family appears fond, even solicitous of her.
Riggen's casting is on the money: Kate del Castillo makes a heartbreakingly lovely Rosario, and Adrián Alonso, in addition to giving a gutsy performance as Carlitos, has a marvelous old-man's face the camera never tires of. Veteran actress María Rojo creates a shrewd portrait of a woman who arranges border crossings and observes her own brand of ethics while doing so, and Eugenio Derbez brings raffish charm to a crowd-pleasing role, a guest worker who, though himself two leaps ahead of "La Migra," becomes Carlitos's reluctant protector. America Ferrara (yes, "Ugly Betty") contributes an unflattering cameo as a U.S. college student of Hispanic descent who doesn't understand Spanish. --Richard T. Jameson