By Marc Glassman
A Better Life
Chris Weitz, dir.
Eric Eason, script based on Roger L. Simon’s story
Starring: Demian Bichir (Carlos Galindo), Jose Julian (Luis Galindo), Eddie “PIolin” Soleto (himself), Joaquin Cosio (Blasco Martinez), Gabriel Chavarria (Ramon)
It’s almost shocking to admit that Chris Weitz, one of the directors of the gross-out (and high grossing) teen comedy American Pie, has crafted a moving and socially engaged look at life in Hispanic Los Angeles in his new film A Better Life. A look at his bio reveals the truth: Weitz’s grandmother Lupita starred in the first Mexican talkie Santa and his wife is Mexican-Cuban. So the all-American actor-director genuinely has Latin roots–and they show quite clearly in this tightly budgeted, heartfelt indie film.
Carlos Galindo, the protagonist in A Better Life, is a member of L.A.’s vast community of illegal immigrants. A current estimate of “illegals” in the U.S. is that there are over 11 million people living in America without proper papers, of which over 50% are from Mexico. Presumably many are like Carlos, hard working individuals who left their homelands for “a better life” in the U.S.
Working as a gardener, Carlos makes enough money to maintain a run-down house, where he lives with his 14 year-old son Luis. Despite fears of being caught by immigration authorities, who would deport him, Carlos desperately wants to stay in L.A. and improve his son’s life as well as his own. When his boss, a Mexcan compadre who wants to retire, offers him the opportunity to buy his truck and gardening equipment so that he can take over the business, Carlos hesitates–he doesn’t have the money.
In the end, his sister–another illegal–comes through with enough cash to help him; Carlos is ecstatic and even Luis, who is flirting with joining a gang, becomes hopeful. All too quickly, though, their world comes crashing down after Carlos’ new assistant steals the truck and equipment. Carlos and Luis join together to find the stolen vehicle and in the process, form a stronger bond between them. But they soon discover that there are more twists in their melodramatic tale…
A Better Life is well crafted and feels authentic despite its overly dramatic scenario. Weitz has worked with the Hispanic community in L.A. to catch the language, clothing, music–and more importantly–attitude of Latins living in California’s biggest city. The film makes the point that the system, which continues to trap and deport hard working Hispanics is unjust and should be changed.
That’s important but for a fiction film to work, there must be a compelling dramatic arc. A Better Life has that: it’s the story of a father’s love for his son, an emotion and story that has universal appeal. As Carlos, Demian Bichir is a revelation; his performance is deeply emotional and dramatically compelling. A Better Life is a terrific little Indie; anyone who goes to this film will find themselves touched by its mixture of family drama and good old agit-prop radical political thought.