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Bolivar De La Cruz, with a baby on the way, has just made the treacherous journey over the border from Mexico to Los Angeles, California, home of the beautiful and restless Lola Sara, whose parents made the same journey some twenty years ago. Now two people from very different sides of the same culture find themselves on a collision course with the events that will change their lives forever. Written by
ESL: If you like simple, stupid, and sexist, this movie is for you
As someone with strong ties to Mexico and loved ones who face the harsh realities of immigration, it pains me to have to write this review. ESL is an L.A.-based indie film about Bolívar, a 21-year-old immigrant who leaves his pregnant wife at home in Mexico and comes to L.A. to find a job and send her money, only to find that the materialism of American culture is transforming him into a monster that he refuses to become thanks to his superior Mexican moral values. In terms of quality, character development/depth, and the logic of the diagetic events, think of it more as a bad soap opera than as a movie. It's completely based on stereotypes, simplistic and predictable metaphors, and in general is an insultingly dumbed-down sub-form of movie: melodrama at its most self-indulgent. From Bolívar's mid-movie changing of his crucifix for a much flashier and more expensive gold chain to his female counterpart's mother's exaggerated reliance on cigarettes during times of emotional distress, you'll find yourself asking how this movie made it out of any studio, no matter how independent.
As if this weren't enough, it is by far the worst offender I have seen so far among newer Mexican-themed films (I say "themed" because the film is actually American) in its explicit machismo and subjugation of women, which of course goes hand-in-hand with blistering homophobia, all of which are portrayed as noble Mexican "values." The protagonist's masculinity is called into question when his friend learns that the money he makes comes from dancing in his underwear at a club: a job that is normally reserved for "women." The disgust with which his friend tells him this and Bolívar's militant reaction only confirm that to become "like women" is the most immoral and humiliating thing that can happen to men. Bolívar displays repeated outbursts of irrational violence (randomly attacking the club owner who gave him the job after Bolívar himself admitted he was willing to "do anything," for example), cheats on his wife, and makes a habit of lying to her over the phone, but this is all justified by his role as a victim in American society and his masculine "nature": his needs as a "man." The film wallows in the self-indulgent and poorly-executed poetics of victimization and the self-righteous and abrasively offensive reinscription of the centuries-old myth of "what it means to be a man" (and a Mexican one at that). Perhaps a shorter and much better summary would be this: it's like a misogynistic high school student wrote and directed this movie. While the film attempts to construct Mexican masculinity (and therefore, Mexican identity), the clear end result is an insult to Mexican cinema, American cinema, independent cinema, and to anyone who sees it.
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