The first real tear-jerker of 2008 is here and it's called La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon). That "same moon" is the one under which both Rosario, a young mother working in Los Angeles and Carlitos, her nine year old son back in Mexico, both sleep. It's the moon they both look at knowing the other is also looking. It's a way they have to connect with each other between their weekly Sunday morning phone calls. At times, it is the only hope they have of ever seeing each other again.
The problem, of course, is immigration. Rosario has come to the United States illegally in hopes of making some money and, ultimately, gaining legal status and then sending for her son. Carlitos, meanwhile, has been stuck in Mexico living with his grandmother (his father took off before he was born and we find out is living in Tucson).
As is the way in these kinds of films, adversity strikes. Two days after Carlitos' birthday, his grandmother dies, leaving the young boy alone. He decides he's had enough and in the next five days, before his next scheduled call, he's going to go to LA and find his mom. Written out like that, this seems an improbable tale at best. And yet, in the hands of first time feature director Patricia Riggen, the film not only works, but comes off as believable.
A good portion of that credit, though, must also go to Adrian Alonso, who, at 13, plays the nine-year-old Carlitos with a heart and energy unmatched by many Hollywood actors twice his age. He is able to convey his emotions and determination beautifully, never stooping (unless intentionally) into small child doe-eyes. He is a three dimensional character who has a drive and the will to succeed. He is aided on his journey by Enrique (Eugenio Derbez, one of Mexico's finest actors) also an illegal who is slowly won over. The fact Enrique does not immediately fall for the charms of the kid is a tribute to the skill of writer Ligiah Villalobos. By the time he does come around it feels natural and right. As if he was convinced by the situation and not coerced by the needs of the story.
As Rosario, Kate del Castillo is given less to do physically, but shoulders a large percentage of the emotional weight of the film. It is through her eyes we see the plight of the domestic illegal and the hardships endured in the name of a promise of a better life. While her son and his friend travel, Rosario stagnates and her internal struggle to do what is right almost leads her to disaster.
A lot will be said about this film in reference to illegal immigration. While it is true all of the characters in it have entered the United States under less than perfect circumstances, this is not what the film is about. At no point do Villalobos or Riggen proselytize either for against the immigration policy of America. Instead, they show some of the harsh realities of what it means to be illegal and why people are willing to risk everything for a shot at something. And they do it by injecting the perfect amount of humor amidst the drama so we laugh amidst the pain.
By the end of Carlitos' journey, which doesn't end nearly as expected, you will have a much deeper understanding of the bond between a mother and her son and why there are no walls which will keep them apart. This is a feel-good movie of the first order, but it is also one which will spark discussion - and that is never a bad thing.