I can see why some people would love A Better Life.  There’s a pervasive sense of realness throughout, the kind that seductively passes itself off as truth. That, for better or worse, doesn’t affect how I watch movies, at least consciously.  So while I may not have found the movie anything special, that wouldn’t preclude me from recommending it to others.  A Better Life was sent out around September as one of the first for your consideration screeners of the year.  Not to me, of course.  Though, hey.  If anyone mistakenly stumbles across this post in some google search gone horrible awry, please feel free to send us stuff.  We’ll happily review anything, and with the four of us, someone is bound to like it.  Plus, we are voting members of the Independent Spirits awards, so, you know, that almost means something.

The story is relatively simple.  Demian Bichir is an illegal immigrant living in LA, eking out a living as a gardener.  An only father, he works long hours in an effort to provide for his son (Jose Julian), your typical disaffected high schooler.  After starting as a day laborer offering services outside a Home Depot (or Home Depot-like place), he found steady work for a fellow Mexican with a truck.  He’s presented with an opportunity to buy the truck, and I won’t spoil the rest of the movie after he buys the truck, but there’s a reason I brought up his immigration status.

I actually really liked the relationship between Bichir and his son, in particular how it relates to this better life.  In any other movie, Julian is a rather standard kid, who has a good heart, but thanks to plentiful opportunity and limited means, is pulled toward bad elements.  If the film took place in middle America, he’d be pulling pranks and hanging out with the kids who cut class to smoke cigarettes, and there’d be a bittersweet ending where he finally realizes everything his dad had done for him.  Here, though, the stakes are higher.  Bichir has sacrificed any semblance of a life and at the risk of deportation, just to make sure his son has a chance in life, and the kid seems to be spitting on the opportunity, even if just by being a kid.  It is a heartbreaking thought.

Bichir just received a Spirit Award nomination, hopefully not the culmination of months of buzz surrounding his performance.  In some sense, Bichir is just like his character when compared to most other Oscar Best Actor contenders.  The category seems likely to be chock full of Hollywood luminaries: Clooney, DiCaprio, Pitt and here’s a guy who’s just happily (?) chugging along.  His performance is delightfully subtle, contributing above all else to the sense of realness.  A comparison to Kyle Chandler is probably silly, but I think Bichir would absolutely knock a character like Coach out of the park, given the chance.

The film itself isn’t terribly interesting, though Bichir helps prevent the film from ever getting boring.  The story is slight and dialogue not particularly memorable, if generally effective. I guess it made me think a little, but that may well be a function of the fact that I knew I was going to write a post about the movie.  Assuming, I suppose, you believe I put any thought into this stuff.

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