A24’s Problemista review: A surreal fairytale about finding your people

Each of comedian Julio Torres’ projects has been a testament to his ability to tell stories shaped by both his strong imagination and a deep understanding of the hyper-specific idiosyncrasies that make strange people interesting. In SNL sketches like “Wells For Boys” and his short-lived HBO series Los Espookys, Torres created windows into absurdist worlds that were meant to be places you might only visit in your dreams. But with A24s Problemista which he wrote, directed and stars in – Torres uses his creative powers to paint a picture whose beauty is rooted in how real and emotionally honest it feels.

Inspired by Torres’ own experience immigrating to the US, Problemista tells the story of Alejandro, an aspiring toymaker from El Salvador who travels to America in hopes of fulfilling his dreams by working for Hasbro. As the only child of artist Dolores (Catalina Saavedra), Alejandro grows up experiencing their little part of the world as a magical, vibrant place that fuels his unique imagination. When a young Alejandro (Logan J. Alarcon-Poucel) desires a life-size, castle-like playhouse where he can contemplate his feelings, Dolores uses her talents to make his dream a reality – not just because she can, but because she wants to. to understand that he too is capable of turning ideas into reality.

Dolores also wants Alejandro to know that she will always love him and support his choices, which her dreams tell her will one day lead him to great things. But when Alejandro finally sets out on his own, Dolores can’t help but feel like she’s sending him into a world that isn’t good enough for a soul as sensitive as his.

Through both Katie Byron’s impeccable, unusual production design and Isabella Rossellini’s voiceover, Problemista tells you how, more than a simple chronicle of Alejandro’s journey to America, it is in reality a kind of fairy tale about an extremely sensitive and sheltered man who discovers what it means to pursue your passions.

Getting to New York City and finding a place to stay are important steps on Alejandro’s path to Hasbro, where he hopes his ideas for social media-obsessed Cabbage Patch Kids and psychologically manipulative Barbies can land him an entry-level job. However, hope doesn’t exactly pay the bills. And as an immigrant, Alejandro’s ability to stay in the US depends on finding a job willing to sponsor him before his time is up. It is especially necessary for Alejandro to work at a cryogenics startup that specializes in frozen artists like Bobby (RZA) who want to wake up centuries in the future. But it seems fate introduces Alejandro to Bobby’s ruthless art critic Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton) on the same afternoon he is fired.

While the whimsical atmosphere of playfulness does Problemista The edge that never really goes away becomes even more unhinged once Elizabeth enters the picture with a proposal for Alejandro to become her latest in a seemingly long line of overworked assistants. In Elizabeth – a living reality distortion field whose fuse is as short as her outfits are loud – Alejando sees a woman in mourning who ultimately wants to be seen and heard more than she actually wants to fight. But screaming is Elizabeth’s default mode, and while most people experience her angry outbursts as ordinary tantrums, Alejandro visualizes them as a series of battles between a bloodthirsty monster and her helpless victims.

although Problemista‘s fantasies lend levity to the film, their strength lies in how powerfully they illustrate the more complex, serious ideas that Torres explores with his script, such as the ways in which the US visa system makes it extremely difficult for immigrants to build a film. new lives and flourishing in the country. Dealing with Elizabeth and her search for a series of Bobby’s egg-centric paintings is a hell in itself that makes everyone want to distance themselves. But it pales in comparison to the fear Alejandro lives in, knowing he is just days away from deportation.

Even with sympathetic case workers like Khalil (Laith Nakli) backing him up, without money, Alejandro has no way to escape the endless costs of the immigration system or the overdrafts plaguing his bank account. And the more time Alejandro spends navigating the unfairly designed maze of near-poverty, the more he turns to the embodiment of Craigslist (Larry Owen) to find additional low-paying side jobs.

Problemista quietly weaves many of its storylines together in clever ways – Elizabeth is the monster living in the caves who haunts Dolores’ dreams, for example, and the Critic’s power to make things happen (by bullying people) reminds Alejandro of his mother’s talent for translating rough sketches into three-dimensional works of art.

But the film sometimes feels more like an ensemble of complementary stories than a single story (which isn’t necessarily a bummer), due to the amount of time the film spends on side characters, which draws the focus away from Alejandro. Together, Swinton and Torres create a storm of delightful eccentricities that belie their characters’ shared yet obvious emotional vulnerabilities. As Alejandro and Elizabeth grow closer, Problemista‘s forays into the absurd become even more intense and fantastic to emphasize how they represent the truth of what something is.

These truths are often so terrifying that people don’t want to see them. But Problemista highlights how healing it can be to confront them through art and by seeking to build meaningful connections with others, even when the task seems impossible.

Problemista Also stars Greta Lee, Spike Einbinder, Kelly McCormack, Megan Stalter, Charlene Incarnate, Martine Gutierrez and Carlos E. Navedo. The film can be seen in cinemas nationwide from March 22.

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