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Beginning and ending his second English-language feature with the same song by cult country artist Lee Hazlewood, director Diego Luna signals that while his Mr. Pig may be an elegy, it won’t traffic in self-importance or self-pity: “Let those I-don’t-care days begin / I’m tired of holdin‘ my stomach in,” Hazlewood sings in his languid baritone, “‘Cause my autumn’s done come / My autumn’s done come.”
Having made those let-myself-go choices some time back, Danny Glover’s Ambrose Eubanks finally attempts to prepare for mortality in this bittersweet road movie, making life difficult for the daughter (Maya Rudolph) he wishes he could help. Unshowy but providing an excellent vehicle for its often underutilized star, the picture will please fest audiences and merits theatrical exposure, even if it lacks the built-in appeal of its predecessor, 2014’s Caesar Chavez.
Ambrose, an alcoholic hog farmer whose business has fallen apart, scuttles off his nearly-foreclosed property with a giant hog, Howard, in the back of his van. He’s headed down to Mexico, where the son of an old colleague wants to buy the genetically valuable animal. But the trip goes awry, and soon Eunice, the daughter he rarely sees, has followed his trail to Jalisco. She’s not a moment too soon, as Ambrose is on the verge of physical collapse and isn’t making many good decisions. Together they try to figure out what to do with Howard while getting Ambrose the treatment he needs.
As in the few other straight and straight-ish roles the SNL vet has taken, Rudolph proves she could do just fine without diminishing-return comedy gigs like the recent Sisters. She nails the exasperated devotion of a woman who long ago accepted that she can’t expect much from the father she nevertheless loves. While she dutifully takes the parental role, Glover enacts the kind of breathless stubbornness many of us have observed in parents or grandparents who can no longer single-handedly get themselves out of tough situations.
“I’m already dead. The universe already died,” Ambrose mutters at one point, saying it’s “just our perception” that hasn’t caught up with the facts. And by this point, viewers will strongly suspect this film belongs to that road movie subgenre in which not all passengers reach their destination. But Luna’s movie, co-written with Augusto Mendoza, fulfills expectations without feeling like it’s checking items off a list — observing bits of the Mexican landscape as a local would (Ambrose evidently spent much of his career in the country) and, between the lines, trying to understand how this old man did a better job caring for his prize hog than his daughter.
Production company: Canana
Cast: Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, Jose Maria Yazpik, Joel Murray, Angelica Aragon, Gabriela Araujo
Director: Diego Luna
Screenwriters: Augusto Mendoza, Diego Luna
Producers: Pablo Cruz, Diego Luna
Executive producers: Julian Levin Balcells, Gael Barcia Bernal, Arturo Sampson
Director of photography: Damian Garcia
Production designer: Lourdes Oyanguren
Costume designer: Mariana Watson
Editor: Douglas Crise
Composer: Camilo Froideval
Casting directors: Heidi Levitt, Viridiana Olvera
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Sales: Kevin Iwashina, Preferred Content
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