The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A car I couldn’t drive from the backseat

with 7 comments

I have the bad habit of turning into a backseat driver when I watch certain kind of movies.

I’ll tear my hair. I’ll bite my nails. Observing the code of conduct I will do it so discretely that no one else in the theatre will notice. But I’ll curse inwardly, gritting my teeth.

“Why are those characters behaving so ridiculous? Why is he taking THAT decision? It’s bound to cause problems, anyone could see that! Why you just come to me and I’ll tell you EXACTLY what to do.”

The main characters in A Better Life could have been targets for some backseat driving.

Carlos, an illegal immigrant, buys a car illegally, using the last savings of his sister. It doesn’t sound like a good idea considering that he can’t insure it since he’s always risks to be deported to Mexico should he be discovered, and besides he doesn’t even have a driving license.

“Don’t do it!” says the backseat driver, and if you’ve watched enough of movies in your lifetime you know that something bad is bound to happen with that car deal.

But in the case of A Better Life, my inclination to drive from the backseat decreased as the movie went on.

Sure, some of the things Carlos does are illegal or questionable. Sometimes he’s just naïve or careless. However he’s neither bad, nor stupid. All he wants to do is to give his son Luis a better life and the car purchase could be one step on the road, a step worth taking some risks.

No simple fix
In the end I had to admit my defeat. There was no simple fix to Carlo’s troubles, no obvious solution to the problems that come with the illegal immigration.

Without giving away too much of the film you could say that A Better Life is a story about someone fighting for the American dream as well as a story about the relationship between a father and a son who are light-years apart at the start, but come closer to each other as they’re going through difficulties together.

How easily couldn’t this film have become sickening overly sweet? Especially considering that the last film Chris Weitz did was The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Admittedly I haven’t seen that one myself, but my prejudices lead me in a certain direction.

But nothing could be more wrong. A Better Life is anything but predictable and sentimental. It gives a nuanced and believable picture of a life situation I know nothing about.

I also need to mention Demián Bichir, who plays the leading role. He definitely deserved his Oscar nomination.

A Better Life (Chris Weitz, US, 2011) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

March 30, 2012 at 1:00 am

7 Responses

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  1. This film really hit me hard.

    As a father I was completely touched by the struggle felt here by father and son. I cried really hard at the final scene… it was Blue Valentine all over again

    • There are no easy solutions, are there? I still left the movie somewhat hopeful about that thins will work their way eventually.

      And now I realize that I’m talking about them as if they exist for real. But that’s how it felt. Says something about how good the script and acting was I guess.


      March 30, 2012 at 10:11 am

  2. I love this term: Movie Backseat Driver. That’s good. I may have to borrow that (I will you credit, of course).

    And I think sometimes, as you insinuate, we become backseat drivers at the movies because we come to care so much about the characters. And it’s hard not to care for Carlos, even as his bad decisions mount. He’s only doing them out of love.


    March 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    • Please go ahead! And yes, I think it’s not a bad thing to be one. It indicates that it’s engaging. In this case I felt the backseat urge but realized how hard it was to really come up with something better to do. He was in a very bad position in life.


      April 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm

  3. Good review. I liked this film, but then I didn’t have the initial problems with the character’s actions. The movie showed us what he had to look forward to if he didn’t buy the truck (standing on a corner hoping someone would come by and hire him for the day), so he really didn’t have much choice, especially (as you pointed out) he truly cared for his son and wanted a better life for him.


    April 5, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    • Thanks. I didn’t have objections against buying the truck as much as to trusting that guy…. “NONONONO!”. You could se THAT coming. 🙂 Anyway I really cared for him a lot and I tell myself that things surely turned out well in the end, after the movie had finished.


      April 6, 2012 at 7:49 am

      • Okay, I misunderstood. Yes, when he dropped those keys I was asking “What are you doing?”


        April 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm

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