A Better Life
Chris Weitz's immigration drama is admirable but predictable
There’s no denying American comedian Pat Paulsen’s dictum that the problems the United States faces today can be traced to the American Indian’s slack immigration policy. A Better Life is the mainstream cinemagoing public’s worst nightmare, an issue movie about immigration – you get to feel guilty about the folk who just sold you popcorn. Ironically and unusually, it’s directed by the ‘resting’ king of the multiplex, Chris Weitz, one half of the sibling act who gave us American Pie and who went on to make About A Boy, The Golden Compass and New Moon on his lonesome.
Taking its lead from Vittorio De Sica’s Italian realist touchstone Bicycle Thieves, A Better Life is the simple tale of the attempt by an illegal Mexican immigrant, Carlos, to make a better life for his son Luis (José Julián) in Los Angeles. When Carlos’ pick-up van and tools are stolen the pair know they must find them to survive.
Weitz’s film is immensely predictable, clearly written by someone who has spent too long watching dubbed South American soap operas – ‘That’s why I had you. For me. For a reason to live’ – but as an attempt to bring emotion and thought to a contentious issue, it is commendable and mildly successful. Ultimately it is Mexican star Demián Bichir’s low-key but solidly wrought performance as the unlucky, ever-trustful Carlos that pulls the film through its longueurs and pointless diversions.
GFT, Glasgow, from Fri 29 Jul–Thu 4 Aug; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, from Fri 29 Jul–Thu 11 Aug.