A Better Life

Nominated for Best Actor at the 84th Annual Academy Awards…          He’s a saint, you see…and there’s nothing all that interesting about saints. Flaws are interesting. Perfection is not. I find these scripts to be awfully lazy and programmed to a fault. Don’t try to force me to feel! How long before a friend or acquaintance sees this on cable television sometime later this year and tells me how much they loved it? And that I have no heart? Yeah, I do…but I also have a head. I use them both. Apparently the screenwriters of “A Better Life” do not.          It’s not the actors fault. Bravo to 48-year-old Demian Bichir for securing an Oscar nomination for his work here. Not that I’m saying he deserves it, but I’m not knocking him for getting it either. But shouldn’t we ask ourselves as an audience why we so readily accept black and latino actors for Oscar consideration only if their characters pass the test for canonization? Is that the sole way we can root for Bichir’s illegal immigrant gardener as he strives for his slice of the American dream on the manicured lawns of the “elite” of L.A.? His Carlos will not raise a hand, or speak a coarse word, or show anger to a thief. He’s the Gandhi of gardeners. It’s all for the sake of his young boy(Luis), and the life he’s trying to build for him. The lure of the gang  world is dangled in front of 14-year-old Luis throughout the film…which way will he go? C’mon…the answer is never in doubt. NOTHING is ever in doubt. Each scene is telegraphed by the one immediately preceding. It’s a shame really, because this is a story that needs to be told. Just not with T.V. movie melodrama posing as an arty feature film. This attempts to be “Bicycle Thieves”(substitute stolen truck instead)meets 2008’s “The Visitor” with rather tepid payoffs. It actually makes the latter, no stirring immigration expose itself, look like it has iron balls.          I’m pleased that this film has a mostly latino cast. Also, it is impossible not to like Bichir’s Carlos…Demian works his butt off with the screenplay he’s given to work with. But when a social worker makes a “suggestion” to Carlos late in the film-is there any doubt which path the gardener will choose? Whiling away 90 minutes with this on the couch on a lazy day is not the worst way you could spend and hour and a half. I just hope the next immigration story of this type gives us a real person instead of a beatific bore.      Grade:   C


2 comments on “A Better Life

  1. I just watched this yesterday and was very impressed with Bichir’s performance. The rest of the film was, as you said, mediocre and overwrought. What I thought was interesting is the trend among the Best Actor nods toward understated and restrained performances. Clooney holds off the histrionics in the Descendants. Pitt has some explosive moments in Moneyball but that’s based on a real person and the best part of his performance was the quiet parts. Dujardin mugs his way through The Artist but there’s a lot of subtlety too. Haven’t seen Oldman in Tinker but I imagine he’s not reprising his antics from The Fifth Element.

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