'In Search of the American Dream': Film Review
A Mexican famly goes on the lam to avoid being separated by the authorities in Baldemar Rodriguez's indie film drama.
The emergence of a certain presidential candidate and his demonization of immigrants have no doubt spurred the belated theatrical release of Baldemar Rodriguez's low-budget debut feature about a family of Mexican Americans who take it on the lam after running afoul of the law. Shot between 2008 and 2010, In Search of the American Dream benefits from the hot-button timeliness of its themes. But this overlong and amateurish effort only serves to demonstrate that noble intentions and sincerity aren't enough to make for compelling drama.
The film's central character is the good-hearted David (director Rodriguez, who also scripted, edited and produced), the grown son of undocumented Mexican parents who are arrested trying to procure counterfeit citizenship papers. Although David's five younger siblings were born in the United States, his undocumented status prevents him from becoming their legal guardian. So the children are threatened with the dire prospect of being split up by Child Protective Services.
To avoid that fate, David hits the Texas roads with his brothers and sisters, although their ultimate goal isn't clear. The story lurches into melodrama when David accidentally shoots a highway patrolman in a scuffle during a routine highway stop, resulting in the young runaways being pursued by the cops as well as immigration agents.
Along the way, they also experience more mundane situations, such as David's teenage sister (Shaina Sandoval) becoming resentful over having to leave behind her American boyfriend and David striking up a platonic romance with a friendly female singer in search of a ride. The film also suffers from bizarre tonal shifts. This is most notable when the group, desperate to procure much-needed medication, robs a drugstore, in a scene that is bizarrely played for laughs.
To its credit, the screenplay doesn't demonize all of the authorities, with one female cop sympathetically telling David, "It's a screwed-up system, but it's the only system we've got." But whatever ideas Rodriguez wants to express about the injustices of the U.S. immigration system are undermined by the hopelessly contrived storyline, ineffective performances, bombastic musical score and subpar technical aspects that make the film resemble an ambitious student project. The stultifying 143-minute running time makes the already laborious proceedings all the more interminable.
Production: Adelante Productions, Definition Productions
Cast: Baldemar Rodriguez, Shaina Sandoval, Jeremy Becerra, Kayla Valadez, Daniella Jimenez
Director/screenwriter/editor: Baldemar Rodriguez
Producers: Baldemar Rodriguez, Gregg Angel Rangel
Executive producers: Gregg Angel Rangel, Baldemar Rodriguez Sr.
Director of photography: Gregg Angel Rangel
Production designer: Odra Trevino, Aubrey Harding
Costume designer: Maria Trevino
Composer: Penka Kouneva
Casting: Michelle Fitzgerald
Not rated, 143 minutes