A Better Life

2 out of 5 stars
A Better Life

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Let's pretend, for a moment, that you're a successful Hollywood director, having introduced the world to pie-humping teens and worked on successful (and not-so-successful) fantasy-flick franchises. Eventually, you start to feel like all these big productions about vampires and polar-bear warriors are sucking away your soul. Perhaps you stumble into an L.A. theater one night where The Bicycle Thief is playing, or simply come across that scene from The Player on TV. You think: That's the movie I should be making, about ordinary people and manual labor and struggling and real life. Soon, you're shooting a modest little film about a Mexican gardener (Bichir) and his at-risk teenage kid (Julian) tracking down their stolen pickup truck. Social issues—immigration, gangbanging, class disparities in Los Angeles—hover in the background. This will be the story that shows the world you really care.

Maybe it's unfair to pin the sum of Tinseltown's white-liberal sins on Chris Weitz; a well-intentioned tale of marginalized folks is preferable to a Golden Compass sequel, and the movie would still be mediocre regardless of his resume. But for all of the attention paid to Latino neighborhoods and migrant workers, there's a sense of simplistic naivete (a multiculti montage virtually screams, "Wow, diversity!") and plentiful storytelling missteps (maybe filming a schoolyard showdown like a music video while trying to deglamorize violence isn't a good idea) that inspire nothing but cynicism. Kudos for stepping outside your comfort zone, sir, even if the result just translates as old-fashioned cultural slumming masked as tear-jerking humanism. Better luck next time.

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