Sunday, October 30, 2016

No se aceptan devoluciones

Valentin Bravo (Eugenio Derbez) is afraid of many things, with commitment being his greatest fear. Living the ideal bachelor life at a beach in Acapulco, his raison d’être involves hooking up with as many women as he could, may they be local or foreign. But his enviable life is about to come to an end when Julie (Jessica Lindsey) drops by for a visit one day with a child in tow, introducing her to him as his daughter. Asking for USD10 for cab fare, she asks him to carry the baby for a while as she heads down to pay the taxi driver. She doesn't come back. Totally clueless about fatherhood, he enters the United States illegally to return the kid to her mother, but has no luck finding her in Los Angeles. What he finds, instead, is a job as a stuntman. Realizing that he can no longer go back to Mexico without being hassled at the border with an American child under his care, he decides to start anew and becomes a doting father to Maggie (Loreto Peralta), who becomes the center of his life for the next six years. But his happiness is going to be short-lived. One day, he receives a phone call from Julie. She wants her daughter back.

I must say that I was caught off-guard with the big twist. Just to be clear, there is this one plot twist that is just so obvious from the very beginning even if you are not that critical about the small details. The thing is, there is a bigger twist toward the end which I totally didn’t see coming. I guess the writers deserve some kudos for being effective at throwing that red herring at us. Regardless of the flaws in the plot and the melodramatic ending, the sure thing is that it will tug some heartstrings, unless you are that emotionally apathetic that nothing moves you anymore. You never go wrong with a fatherhood storyline after all, and this clearly won the hearts of Mexican moviegoers big time.

The film shattered numerous records upon its release. 2013 marked an era of renewed enthusiasm for Mexican cinema, with Nosotros los Nobles ending up as the most watched movie in the national box office, dethroning El crimen del padre Amaro after more than a decade as the country’s highest grossing feature of all time. No se aceptan devoluciones broke that record just months later, setting a box office amount so huge that it would probably take some time before another full-length movie comes along to snatch its place. It has also become the highest grossing Spanish language movie in the North American box office, placing fourth overall on the list of most viewed foreign language films in the United States.

More trivia! With Qué culpa tiene el niño ascending the ranks to be the third highest grossing film in Mexico, Karla Souza earned the recognition of appearing in all three of the country’s highest grossing movies of all-time, until No manches Frida overtook it later this year. But her participation in this film is really minimal, and the bravura team-up of Peralta and Derbez just leaves no more space for the other performances to stand out, even that of Lindsey. The father and daughter tandem owned this movie, and their dysfunctional relationship as parent and child is guaranteed to touch a lot of people, especially those individuals with daddy issues.

European critics have been quite harsh with their reviews, calling the movie a poor rip-off of Kramer vs. Kramer. While that film has undoubtedly set the bar high for narratives tackling child custody battles in court, it’s rather unfair to disregard the efforts of the cast and crew to present a legit story about fatherhood that has a universal appeal. Sure enough, Lindsey is no Meryl Streep and Derbez is not Dustin Hoffman, but their acting is genuine enough to elicit empathy from their audience, and I believe that’s where the movie succeeds. Its premise is universal like that and it has heart, which is probably why it has been that successful in the first place.

There are many outrageous scenes far detached from reality, but easily forgivable thanks to the storyline’s universality. It’s something that you can relate to regardless of your nationality. There are many opportunities to touch on socially relevant issues unique to US-Mexican relations, but these are not the focus of the narrative, and the movie is well-aware of that. There are moments of pure melodrama, but strategically scattered so as not to be too artificial. Overall, it’s a movie that will provoke an emotional reaction from you, making you appreciate the ups and downs of parenthood, if you already are one, that is.

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