The opening credits of Under the Same Moon crosscut between the mundane morning routines of a woman and her 9-year-old son. The not-so-mundane catch: They are separated by hundreds of miles.
The feature film debut of director Patricia Riggen, Under the Same Moon follows the long-distance parent-child relationship between Rosario (Kate del Castillo), a woman who has crossed the border from Mexico to seek work (maid, seamstress, babysitter) in Los Angeles, and Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), the 9-year-old son she left behind with her mother.
Rosario and Carlitos haven't seen each other for four years, but they have a standing date every Sunday morning, where they talk to each other via payphone. The movie opens with one of these conversations, this one particularly painful, as Carlitos lashes out at his mother for being gone so long and implores her to either come home or send for him.
This strained long-distance relationship is complicated, in a movie kind of way, when Carlitos' grandmother dies and, fearing falling into the clutches of his threatening uncle, he decides to cross the border with the help of an opportunistic Mexican-American visitor (America Ferrera) and seek out his mother.
From there, Under the Same Moon is essentially two movies on a collision course: In Los Angeles, Rosario is in the midst of a modern update of the classic woman's picture: a romantic drama in which she deals with heartbreak over her separation from her son and the romantic entreaties of Paco (Gabriel Porras) a hunky, sensitive security guard who wants to marry Rosario to help bring her son over.
Meanwhile, Carlitos is the protagonist in a road movie that leaps from a risky border crossing to exploits in El Paso to a reunion with his long-estranged father in Tucson to a final bid to find his mother in Los Angeles.
Despite these two spheres of action, Under the Same Moon is a simple, earnest film. The bordering-on-trite title refers to the globe Carlitos and Rosario both gaze at from different sides of the border and posits this individual story as a stand-in for the immigration experience generally: humanizing a presidential debate topic or TV talking-head audience agitator into an individual story about family and opportunity — a mother working to save money for her child, men roaming for jobs while hiding from the INS.
The core story of Carlitos and Rosario is hackneyed and overdetermined, if helplessly moving, especially for parents in the audience. But Under the Same Moon is often at its best when it gets away from that relationship and instead transports viewers into a world many will have no experience with.
In El Paso, Carlitos falls in with a makeshift family of migrant workers, who huddle around a kitchen table and cheer on their home country in a futbol match with the Americans before waking the next morning for a day job picking tomatoes. Along the way, Riggen spices the film with outside commentary via the voice of a Latino radio deejay who mocks fellow immigrant Arnold Schwarzenegger or via a tejano band on the soundtrack asking whether Superman should be considered an illegal immigrant.
There are occasional intimations of the dangers that await a child set adrift, but Under the Same Moon doesn't take viewers too far into the darkness en route to predictable uplift. The spunky, charming Carlitos hooks up with fellow wanderer Enrique (Eugenio Derbez), an at-first reluctant adult companion whose travels with the young boy take on a Charlie Chaplin vibe, an element that fits into the film's status as a gritty-to-a-degree tearjerking fable.
Under the Same Moon
Opening Friday, April 18th