Under the Same Moon (Mexico/United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It would be easy to get hung up on the illegal immigration issue when discussing Under the Same Moon. Indeed, the filmmakers don't make a secret of their feelings about it; they believe the current policy to be repressive and biased. However, there's more to this movie than that, and dwelling on the subject makes it possible for the viewer to lose sight of the film's successful aspect: the effort of a mother and son to be reunited. When all is said and done, that's what Under the Same Moon is about - the love of a woman for her child and the need for that child to search for his mother. There's a universality to this theme - one that crosses borders and trumps positions. As the movie develops, political issues fade into the background as the story focuses on the familial bond and the courage of the nine-year old boy in undertaking a journey that many adults would find daunting.

Under the Same Moon is about the separation of a boy, Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), from his mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo). Four years ago, she stole across the border into California to earn enough money to forge a better life for her son. She misses him desperately and constantly thinks of returning to Mexico. Every Sunday at 10 am without fail, she calls him from the same pay phone. Carlitos, who lives with his grandmother, carries the burden that he has been abandoned. His father never wanted him and he has not seen his mother in a long time. Then his grandmother dies and he makes the fateful decision to travel to Los Angeles to find Rosario.

Under the Same Moon tells parallel stories over a one-week period. Rosario's internal struggles reach a pinnacle and she must decide which is the lesser of two evils: return home to be with her son or marry the considerate and doting Paco (Gabriel Porras) and gain the legal status that would allow her to bring Carlitos to America. Meanwhile, her son has embarked upon a road trip in which he meets a variety of people, some kind, some not-so-kind. He eventually pairs up with the dour Enrique (Engenio Derbez) and the story turns into a form of a buddy movie. Meanwhile, every night, Carlitos gazes at the nearly full moon and recalls something Rosario told him: when he's lonely, look up and know that she is looking at the same moon and thinking of him.

Some might think it disingenuous to disregard the movie's perspective about illegal immigration, as if this element should overrule everything else. I would argue, however, that one need not agree with the position taken by director Patricia Riggen and screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos to be moved by the human story their film tells. It's not possible to review the film without addressing the subject on some level but it is possible to enjoy the movie even if one's position is in opposition.

Under the Same Moon builds momentum with every passing minute. The first half-hour moves slowly as viewers grope to connect with the characters and understand their situations but, as they become more familiar, events take on a greater immediacy. The film's appeal is primarily emotional; it doesn't pass all the intellectual tests. This makes sense because the goal of Under the Same Moon is not to provide a detailed primer on the life of an illegal immigrant but to afford an understanding of the longing and sense of loss that results from the prolonged separation endured by Rosario and Carlitos. They are both sympathetic characters; viewers yearn for their reunion.

The most emotionally potent scene occurs in Tucson when circumstances force Carlitos to take stock of his life and circumstances. Up to this point, the narrative is a patchwork of well connected clich├ęs. It's in this moment that the filmmakers find their voice, the characters gain depth, and the movie begins to achieve what it's striving for. The strong final third counterbalances the weaknesses of the first half. I prefer films that build to something worthwhile rather than collapse short of the finish line. Under the Same Moon accomplishes the former, providing viewers with a testimonial of the enduring strength of the love between mothers and sons.

Under the Same Moon (Mexico/United States, 2007)

Run Time: 1:46
U.S. Release Date: 2008-03-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Mature Themes)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: Some English subtitled Spanish
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1