“Problemista” Movie Review by Rafy Mediavilla (@Rmediavilla) #Problemista #A24 #Movie #Review

“Problemista” Movie Review

Alejandro (Julio Torres) is an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador, struggling to bring his unusual ideas to life in New York City. As time on his work visa runs out, a job assisting an erratic art-world outcast (Tilda Swinton) becomes his only hope to stay in the country and realize his dream. From writer/director Julio Torres comes a surreal adventure through the equally treacherous worlds of New York City and the U.S. Immigration system.

I have to admit that I was intrigued by the premises beginning Problemista when I first saw the trailer last year. When I saw it was picked up for its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival, it became a movie that I had to add to my watch list. At first what truly caught my eye was Tilda Swinton’s performance, followed by the fact that his is Julio Torres first where he stars, writes, and directed a full feature film, which in my book none of these are easy tasks alone, doing them all together and this being you first “studio” project adds more spark to my curiosity. Now that I had the opportunity to sit down and watch it, let me just start by saying that while it did not fully blow me away, and absolutely loved the social commentary, and Tilda Swinton’s performance. 

What work:

Storywise, the way Torres did a masterful job with the social commentary regarding the so-called American Dream as they sell it, and the flawed US immigration system, that basically constantly makes it impossible for foreign country individuals trying to make it in the US to get ahead in life, regardless of how hard you work. 

Character, and performance-wise, Torres did great as an actor, but clearly, he is a better writer, while work still needs to be done, he did a solid work regarding his character. But what he wrote for Tilda Swinton’s character was something else. Her portrayal of this intense, outrageous character stole the show every time she showed up on the scene. A Julio clearly played off her constantly. It was awesome to see how Alejandrano’s witty personality and Elizabeth’s hectic personality constantly clash without ill intent, they are both two people trying to make it in a tough world. 

The production design was something that also caught my eye. I absolutely loved Torres’s vision for his story. How it constantly changes from a scenario that is as typical as it can be, to a scenario where you would be in an odd place but completely fit for the story and what is trying to tell. I felt this movie played out much a like stage play with his production design. I loved the fairytale style of narrative it constantly takes to get a point across between the characters and the story being told.

What did not work:

“Problemista” as it was presented works best when it sticks to the narrative of the American Dream and the US immigration system, it starts falling apart when you want to dive a little bit more into the characters but you only scratch the surface with the character development. When it comes to Elizabeth (Swinton’s character) we have a clear picture of who she is. But when it comes to Alegrando many times Torres wanted to develop more his character but when he tried to he fell short, and heavily. All we know about him is the fact that he wants to be a Toymaker and work for Hasbro, and is not till the last act all because of the mentoring by Elizabeth we finally see him tough it up and make it happen. In the middle, all we see is Alejandro’s struggle with life and we dive into other subjects such as his sexuality, and his witty personality, but all are left at a surface level. I would absolutely would have loved to see more from Alejandro’s personal life, instead of leaving these questions at surface level.

In conclusion:

“Problemista” is clearly a passion project for Torres, and a project that showed he has one hell of a career in Hollywood in front of him, regardless if it’s as an actor, writer, or director, and again while tons of work still remains to be done, I can wait to see what he can come up with next. Yet, much like any passion project, they are all seen to be tailored for an audience of one (a niche audience), and it is safe to say not everyone will love the narrative and how the story plays out. But I have to admit, the number one reason I wanted to see this movie did not fail to surprise me with her performance, and that was Tilda Swanton’s outrageous interpretation of her character, which Torres gets the credit for having the masterful creative of conjuring Elizabeth up. If anything, go to see this movie for the smart social commentary, and Torres’s masterful vision for his story, and stay for Tilda Swinton’s amazing performance. 

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