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Eye on the Ball Films, Jose and Friends Inc.

Official Site

Director: Sergio Arau

Producer: Isaac Artenstein

Written by: Sergio Arau, Yareli Arizmendi, Sergio Guerrero

Cast: Caroline Aaron, Suzanne Friedline, Brian Brophy, John Getz, Eduardo Palomo, Muse Watson


Baseball games cancelled! Fans riot! Basketball games continue as scheduled.

There is a lot to like about this film, starting with the concept. A Day Without A Mexican is a mock docudrama that poses the question of what would happen if the Hispanic population of California were to mysteriously disappear. Of course, their contributions would be sorely missed. Some things—fruits and vegetables rotting unpicked—would be obvious, but what about low-riders? The affluent would certainly miss their domestic help, but would some Anglo women find their Latino lovers irreplaceable? A film that should have a deadly serious underlying purpose—to draw attention to the indispensable and vastly underappreciated contributions of the Hispanic community—could also be very funny, turning a rather dry political diatribe into a hilarious examination of racial stereotypes and clichés, expanding a one-dimensional concept film into one with a deeper comment on our shared humanity.

The almost subliminal aside about the lack of professional Hispanic basketball players is but one of countless little jokes and references that play off racial clichés. Sadly, not all of them play so well. Some of them don’t play at all. Sergio Arau is an accomplished cartoonist, painter, and musician. There are funny gags, some truly beautiful shots, some dynamic and energetic pacing in this film, but he ultimately has some considerable difficulty sustaining the coherent message. A Day Without A Mexican started as a 28-minute short in 1998, which must have enjoyed some success, but this feature-length film plays like a padded short film. There are more characters and subplots in this film than candy in a piñata (forgive me) and a great deal of it is simply distracting. They all seem to have some comment on a stereotype: some light-hearted, some serious, some inexplicable, and all disturbingly isolated within the common theme of the film. If only Arau had the dramatic skill to make them all work together, then this film might be the nationwide cultural message that it dares to dream to be.

I am convinced that this is what writer/director Arau set out to do, to raise the stakes and pull off a monumental triumph, but the film just doesn’t work. I know that I will step on some toes by saying this, but the filmmaking here is not significantly worse than any piece of filmic crap from Roland Emmerich. Okay, so I am exaggerating a bit for effect, but I’ll stand by that statement. Both attempt storytelling on a grand scale, to compete with the likes of Cecil B. DeMille. The budget of this film is infinitesimal, compared to something like Independence Day, and it shows. There are no big stars who are capable of transcending the director’s limitations. Please note that this is not to denigrate the acting in this film, but is a comment on the larger issue. No flashy, big-budget special effects nor spectacular camera work here. Then the screenplay follows the same horrifying disregard for plausibility and character motivation, and exhibits the same shallow, lazy, formulaic character development as typified by Emmerich’s atrocities, leaving you tired and confused. Ultimately, Emmerich’s films succeed on an ability to touch raw nerves, pull strings, push buttons, and Arau fails even to push those buttons, or at least to push gringo buttons.

Here is where things get interesting, thinking about what this film is trying to say, and to whom. You probably have a friend who is rather inarticulate, but you know what they mean, and they often have important things to say. This film is like that. Anyone who doubts how openly vicious the racial tensions have gotten concerning the issues addressed in this film ought to check out the posts on the various message boards regarding this movie. Fortunately, this film more or less avoids that hate. In fact, when the inevitable violent racial hatred finally rears its head in the film, written on a baseball that smashes a window (at least it wasn’t a brick) you have to wonder, “Why now?”

Arau deliberately avoids pushing anything but soft buttons. There are clear and sometimes clumsy messages about the enormity of the Hispanic contribution to the California economy, and it is also made very clear how most people fail to appreciate their culture, but the film is a passionate and polite request for appreciation and respect, for recognition of integrity, not a threat. I’ll forgive the lack of focus, the sometimes-embarrassing clichés concerning other ethnicities, the repetition, and the jokes that fall flat. A Day Without A Mexican is sincere, polite, and considerate. I think that some sincere, polite, and considerate attention to its political point is in order, even if we have to cut the film more than a little slack.

—Steven Harding

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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