A Better Life
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this enlightening, sometimes heartbreaking drama about the illegal immigrant experience pulls no punches in its portrayal of a hardscrabble life, addressing the challenges that the undocumented face without lecturing -- or pandering. Expect the occasional barrage of swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t"), some teen drinking, and a frank look at the lure of gang life in the city. Guns are used, and there are some fights.
What's the story?
He may be a day laborer, but Carlos (Demian Bichir) has big dreams for himself and his son. So when a colleague offers Carlos the opportunity to buy his truck and the gardening clients he has collected through the years, Carlos feels the pull of hope. With his sister's help, Carlos makes the investment, dangling the news to his wayward teenage son, Luis (Jose Julian), like keys to a better life. He worries for Luis, whose gang-banging friends are luring him down a dangerous path. But when the truck is stolen, Carlos and his son decide they won't sit by and stay victims. They'll get it back -- at whatever cost.
Is it any good?
When a movie is able to bring to life a politically loaded issue without being suffused with cliches and rhetoric, it's a miracle. That's exactly what A BETTER LIFE accomplishes; it's a nuanced, sensitive, moving examination of the illegal immigrant experience in modern America. It's a well-crafted movie -- taut when called for, pensive when necessary. It zigzags fluidly between social commentary and family drama, never tipping each side too heavily so as to achieve a delicate balance.
And at its core are two great actors, Bichir and Julian, who manage to make the script come to life with authenticity and empathy. Luis' struggles as a teenager trying to live boldly yet conscientiously could have used some fine-tuning -- some sections seem like shorthand -- but this quibble won't weaken a strong film deserving of an audience.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how the movie portrays undocumented workers and their families. Is it objective, or are viewers meant to take away a specific message? Would you consider that message political?
What is the film's take on the immigration debate? Do you agree? Why or why not?
How does the media typically depict father-son relationships? How does this movie compare?