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Under the Same Moon a fair-tale take on immigration

By Betsy Pickle
Scripps Howard News Service
A fairy tale made more for grown-ups than for children, “Under the Same Moon” is as shamelessly sentimental as a mariachi band’s love song.
The plot focuses on a little boy in Mexico who sets out to join his mother in Los Angeles, where she is working illegally in hopes of providing a better life for her son than he would have otherwise. Who could root against a plucky little boy braving such a trip alone? Who could fault a parent for cherishing such an American dream?
Well, probably the people who draw a hard line on the issue of illegal immigration. “Under the Same Moon” may hope to melt their hearts, but it’s more likely to affect only those already sympathetic to its mission. Or those who are suckers for a cute kid who wants nothing more than to be with his mother.
Carlitos (Adrian Alonso) has been living with his grandmother, Benita (Angelina Pelaez), in their small Mexican village since his mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo), crossed the border into the United States four years ago. Working illegally as a domestic, Rosario sends money home every month but also tries to save so that one day she can bring Carlitos to her.
Every Sunday, Rosario goes to a pay phone in East Los Angeles to call Carlitos on a pay phone in the village. She describes her location to him and does all she can to make him feel close to her, but Carlitos, now 9, believes he’d be better off with his mother at home, never mind their poverty.
An enterprising lad, Carlitos has money of his own, and when his grandmother’s death threatens to put him in the custody of relatives of his AWOL father, he arranges to cross into Texas with some nervous novice “coyotes,” a Mexican-American sister and brother (America Ferrera, Jesse Garcia).
Texas is a long way from L.A., and Carlitos has just a few days to get to his mom before she finds out he’s missing and heads to Mexico to look for him.
Carlitos’ experiences range from fun to heartbreaking and improbable to frightening. Viewers who like to take to the soapbox over child endangerment will not approve. But again, this is a fairy tale ó lighted by a magical moon and laced with love and positivity.
Mexican director Patricia Riggen, working from a script by Ligiah Villalobos, cuts back and forth between Rosario and Carlitos, and their dual tales fuel the connection and emphasize the sacrifice that each has made.
“Under the Same Moon” is predictable, and in some cases farfetched, but the performers are irresistible, not just del Castillo and Alonso but also Eugenio Derbez as Enrique, Gabriel Porras as Paco and Maya Zapata as Alicia. They play people, not types.
While U.S. authorities are painted as bad guys, there are worse villains, Mexicans as well as Americans, in the story ó people trying to use and abuse others, men shirking their parental responsibilities. “Under the Same Moon” chides them even as it puts a human face on the illegal side of illegal immigration.
Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic elements.
4 stars (out of five)
(Contact Knoxville News Sentinel film critic Betsy Pickle at pickle(at)knews.com.)

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