It’s fairly safe to say that Under the Same Moon (La Misma Luna)--with its fantastical faith in the American Dream and its saintly portrait of illegal aliens--was not made by right-wing-radio-listening, border-fence-building members of the Minuteman Project.
Taking its moony title (and most of its narrative inspiration) from the Oscar-nominated tune “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail, Under the Same Moon spins a rosy and well-meaning, but ultimately simplistic, portrait of America’s immigration crisis.
The film begins neatly enough with young mom Rosario (pretty telenovela star Kate del Castillo) and precocious half-pint Carlitos (Adrian Alonso, Joaquin in The Legend of Zorro) waking up in the morning and going about their daily rituals. Mom brushes her teeth while Carlitos gets dressed. Mom cooks breakfast while Carlitos takes the plates out of the cupboard. As the opening credits end, the sequence provides its nifty punch line: Mom is in Los Angeles trying to make ends meet, Carlos is still in Mexico helping take care of his elderly grandmother. A quick flashback tells us how Rosario and son were ambushed by Border Patrol agents while making the perilous trek to the United States. Mom made it across the Rio Grande, but Carlitos was nabbed by La Migra and sent back home.
It’s now four years later, and the only contact Rosario and Carlitos have is their weekly telephone conversations. Every Sunday like clockwork, Rosario calls Carlitos from a pay phone near her East Los Angeles apartment. Every morning, Carlitos crosses off the days on his calendar, waiting for the one day out of seven when he gets to speak with his beloved mother. While slaving away as an underpaid maid for wealthy Los Angelenos, Rosario saves up her money hoping to one day bring Carlitos to her side.
Shortly after his 9th birthday party, however, Carlitos’ grandmother passes away (a guaranteed consequence for anyone in a movie who coughs out loud). Scared of living with his mean uncle and greedy aunt, Carlitos makes the bold decision to hitchhike his way to America to find his mom. The only problem is he’s got to do it in the next six days, otherwise she’ll call and wonder where he is.
Hooking up with a string of benefactors (from some well-meaning, boneheaded American-born Hispanics looking to smuggle babies into the U.S. to a faux grumpy migrant worker), Carlitos embarks on a road trip quest to find the City of Angels.
By portraying all immigrants as poor and kindly and all Americans as stinking rich and heartless, Under the Same Moon turns the complex issue of immigration into a cartoon (not unlike An American Tail, come to think of it). Given what a hot-button issue “border security” has become, now would be the perfect time for a realistic portrayal of the struggles facing undocumented workers here in America. Under the Same Moon is not that film. But maybe it shouldn’t be faulted for that. Director Patricia Riggen and writer Ligiah Villalobos are clearly most interested in the story’s sentimental elements. Like a Hallmark movie made for Telemundo, Under the Same Moon revels in manipulative storytelling, mawkish plot twists and a preference for caricature over character.
The bulk of the film falls on the shoulders of Carlitos, who is way too cute and precocious to exist outside the rarified environment of a Disney movie. (You expect Carlitos to break out into singing “The sun’ll come out tomorrow!” at any moment.) Fortunately--for him, anyway--the film provides a convenient father figure in the form of migrant farmworker Enrique (Eugenio Derbez). You see, Enrique isn’t really as grumpy as he seems and soon learns an important lesson about the value of friendship. Awwww.
In addition to Carlitos’ hurdle-filled cross-country journey, the overstuffed plot finds time for a romance, a job loss and a crisis of faith for mom. If the story is corny, episodic and utterly predictable, the filmmakers at least know to stick with their strengths--namely, the emotional content. Sympathetic viewers are likely to shed a tear or two waiting for the inevitable reunion between mamacita and hijo situated at the end of this mainstream-friendly crowd-pleaser.