Dir: Patricia Riggen. US. 2007. 109 mins.
Patricia Riggen's first feature film La Misma Luna (The Same Moon) is a road movie which starts off as one of those earnest movies which 'wears its heart on its sleeve' and ultimately, irretrievably, descends into cliche and sentimentality.
Centred around a Mexican boy who is cuter and more adorable than all the kids in Cinema Paradiso, Kolya and Central Station put together, the film aims squarely to echo the emotional impact of those minor classics about childhood. But a cute kid cannot sustain a slim conceit and La Misma Luna cannot justify its 109-minute running time.
Buyers were buzzing around the film at its Sundance world premiere, where it was perceived as a crowd-pleaser, and it was swiftly sold in a joint worldwide deal to Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company for $5m.
Its biggest market will be the Latino audience in the US, which might embrace a shameless tear-jerker about the plight of illegal immigrants, especially with the skillful niche marketers at Fox behind it. Domestic arthouse audiences and international distributors might not respond so enthusiastically to such a clunky heartstring-puller.
Mexican, but a graduate of Columbia University Film School in New York City, Riggen leans more to Hollywood conventions than the gritty new Mexican cinema; she has a smooth visual style and the film looks bright and sunny, in direct contrast to the other border-crossing dramas at Sundance this year, Padre Nuestro and Trade.
And like in a Hollywood fairytale, she and her screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos avoid realism in their storytelling. Theirs is a world in which US authorities and vindictive LA housewives are the villains, where the plot hinges on people not having phone access, where chance, circumstance and an evil uncle conspire to keep a darling boy away from his doting mother.
From the start, the set-up is pregnant with obvious emotion. Rosario (Del Castillo) is a young, single woman working as a maid in Los Angeles and sending money home to her mother and young son Carlitos (Alonso), now nine, whom she hasn't seen in four years. The two speak every Sunday, he on his grandmother's home phone, she on the same street payphone across from a Domino's pizzeria.
But when Carlitos wakes up one day to find his grandmother dead, the plucky little fellow resolves to cross over into the US and find his mother, not only because he is all alone but because he is desperate to escape a greedy uncle who wishes to take him in and get his hands on his mother's payments.
The resourceful Carlitos enlists two US citizens (one of whom is played by Ferrara in a small role) to smuggle him into Texas and from there he begins a series of misadventures in his efforts to get to LA and his mother before their scheduled Sunday phone call.
Meanwhile, in the very same few days that her son is wending his way across the US to find her, Rosario accepts and then rebuffs the approaches of a legal immigrant called Paco who wants to marry her, and decides to return to Mexico.
Even when Carlitos arrives in LA, he doesn't know how to find his mother, knowing only that she makes her Sunday 10am call from a payphone next to a Domino's. The race is on for Carlitos to find Rosario before she leaves town.
The title of course refers to the fact that mother and son can both see the same moon from their different locations on the continent.
If the film retains a persistent charm, it is down to the irresistible performance of 11 year-old Adrian Alonso, an extremely confident Mexican child star whose many credits include Innocent Voices and The Legend Of Zorro.
Carmen Gimenez Cacho
Kate Del Castillo