A Better Life (review)
Behold the power of sending screeners to Academy members. It’s hard to imagine Demián Bichir snagging a nomination for an Oscar for Best Actor (as well as the same nomination from a few other groups, including the Screen Actors Guild and the Independent Spirit Awards) if not for the fact that the film was shoved in front of awards voters. I’m not saying A Better Life is a bad film, but it’s not an especially extraordinary one, and there’s nothing in particular that stands out about Bichir’s performance — which is indeed quite nice — that cannot be said about other films that have been overlooked by awards-handing-out organizations. Bichir is Carlos, a poor, hardworking dad in Los Angeles whose primary concern is ensuring that his 14-year-old son, Luis (José Julián), has more opportunities than he ever had. Carlos, from Mexico, is in the U.S. illegally, and lives life constantly on edge, needing to “stay invisible,” which makes it difficult to take advantage of the chance to move up just a little bit in the world, as when his boss offers Carlos the option to buy his landscaping business, consisting of a beatup pickup truck, some tools, and a client list. The plight of undocumented workers like Carlos is sensitively handled by director Chris Weitz (The Twilight Saga: New Moon), and Bichir generates enormous sympathy for Carlos — who embodies in all ways the American dream — even after the inevitable disaster that has been looming strikes in a quiet fit of unlikely preposterousness. This is a gentle, honest, heartfelt film, but the screenplay, by Eric Eason and Roger L. Simon, does not have much to offer beyond an earnest respect for a segment of American society that is too often derided. That’s a good thing. But it’s not a best-of-the-year thing.