Film Review: “Bella” and its previews
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog’s resident film aficionado Learned Foote talks about the new film Bella and also includes mini-reviews of previews! Who says you can’t judge a movie by its trailer?
Bella is about a former soccer player (Eduardo Verástegui) with a tragic past—though I’ll try to avoid too much plot description. After his crazy capitalist brother (Manny Perez) fires a pregnant girl (Tammy Blanchard) from his restaurant, the soccer guy takes the girl to his family’s house for dinner. If I could end my plot description with this unassuming list of events, Bella would be a high-quality film. More on that later.
In 2006, Bella won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto Film Festival. Past winners include successes like Amélie, The Princess Bride, and Crouching Tiger: Hidden Dragon. Intriguingly, Bella also scored big at the Heartland Film Festival, which has previously bestowed honors on films like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Princess Diaries, and Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. (For those of you who don’t know about VeggieTales, it’s a collection of Bible stories retold with vegetables in all the main roles. The interesting array of Bella’s awards continues. According to Wikipedia, the director—Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, an American citizen born in Mexico—received the “American by Choice” (!) award from the United State’s Department of Citizenship for Bella’s “positive contribution to Latino art and culture in the US.”
My point is that Bella has quite an interesting array of messages. On the one hand, it’s about grittiness (when we see apples on the screen, they have bruises) and cultural diversity in New York City (by the way, I appreciate every film that has characters learning Spanish—hurrah for slow, measured dialogue). On the other hand, it’s about the power of family, with an unabashedly pro-faith/pro-life message (this stance may throw off many Columbia students, although they seem to handle Six Feet Under pretty well).
By and large, the movie does an excellent job with these competing cultural messages. Tammy Blanchard—her face a blend of the honest face of Hilary Swank and the knit brows of Parker Posey—balances between skepticism of the overwhelmingly happy family and a hope that the world may actually be alright. Wearing an ill-fitting and very bright dress—“Wow, you must really love Mexico,” says one particularly snide passerby—she exudes quiet and constant irritation. Her performance provides a balancing antidote to the sugary message of the film (despite rather bad moments in the script where she describes the beautiful summer day to a beggar on the street). Bella focuses on these tiny, everyday interactions we have—with the beggar, the person in line behind us at the subway, the convenience store owner, the temporary girlfriend of a younger brother.
In these daily, small-scale moments, Bella succeeds. The movie can’t keep the tragedy in the subtext, however; the filmmakers insist on dragging the deepest darkest past into slow-motion replays. Because this is a feel-good movie, there’s eventually healing, which is even worse. Think about The Ultimate Gift, a really terrible movie about a young girl (the girl from Little Miss Sunshine!) dying of cancer. In the final moments of Gift, as the girl’s mother finds romance and a new life, a little butterfly flies past, presumably symbolizing the dead girl. Bella, thankfully, isn’t quite that literal. But it’s pretty damn close (we see a dragonfly-shaped kite that symbolizes a dead child). Bella tries to be a bit too profound, and this attempt is its undoing. Don’t misunderstand me—the underlying tragedies of Bella are very realistic, and there is room for tragedy within the film’s scope. As a character dryly observes during one everyday chat, 10/10 people are going to die. Bella should have stuck to these truthful little conversations, however, not tried to squeeze in profundities and epilogues where they don’t belong.
Now onto the trailers, as they were probably the most important part of this movie-going experience. More specifically, let’s talk about Columbia University’s presence (featuring in an impressive two out of four trailers!).
In the new Disney movie, Enchanted, a cartoon heroine transforms into Amy Adams (the cutest thing ever, Oscar-nominated for Junebug) and winds up in New York City. Her prince follows her, and begins talking to the Magic Mirror on the Wall, which turns out to be a TV. The newscaster reports from 116th and Broadway, so the prince triumphantly yells out “116th and Broadway!” and, presumably, rides his horse to Columbia. When this movie is released, I shall investigate further.
The other movie trailer intrigued me far less. In between shots of Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, and Meryl Streep intoning very dramatic lines, we see a young whippersnapper of a teenager who has evidently displeased his superior by being cocky. “You…could choose any graduate school in any field you want,” says Robert Redford, over a beautiful aerial shot of Low Library (my dorm visible in the background). Clearly, in this context, “any graduate school” means “best graduate school,” so Columbia rocks. I love having my school pride bolstered by movie trailers.