Julio Torres, originally from El Salvador, is the writer and star of Problemista, making his directorial debut with this feature film. Fans of his comedy know that he is a multi–year nominee for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series (“Saturday Night Live”), the creator and star of the HBO series “Los Espookys,” and a winner of the Peabody Award in 2023. Problemist was in the Headliners category of the 2023 SXSW Film and Television Festival, where it was an Audience Award nominee. Problemista is now arriving in theaters in March. Isabella Rossellini narrates the story.

Torres’ script features him portraying Alejandro from El Salvador, living and working in New York City at FreezeCorp, the questionable cryogenics lab that sponsors his time-limited work visa. He dreams of working for a large toy company where his toy designs can be put out into the world. He has not been accepted. Unfortunately, a month before his visa expires at FreezeCorp, something unexpected happens and the employment is terminated. He is pressured to find another sponsor, and money will be scarce. He is shown often communicating by phone with his loving mother, Dolores (Catalina Saavedra), an architect and designer. She is encouraging but is limited in what she can do from far away.

This premise sounds like it can be a dark and gray drama, but it is far from it. The sets are very bright and colorful, and Alejandro’s dialogue with his employers, staff at the immigration office, and banks has humor in it while making a point of how difficult this is for so many. His script is written humorously through a young person navigating the immigration system while trying to achieve his dream, the privilege others have, how misfits get along in life, making unexpected bonds with others with their challenges, including discovering those who contribute more than expected.

He also does not hesitate to point out in some scenes how much trash piles up on the city sidewalks that citizens must navigate on their daily journey. Unsurprisingly, among the glitz and glamor of New York City, trash-picking among the things on the curb happens, where newfound treasures make their way to a new home (even a makeshift one). This movie is such a grand political and social satire.

When Alejandro is about to be canned from his job at the lab, the wife of a frozen individual, Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), arrives with all her drama about her visual artist husband, Bobby Ascencio (RZA, appears in flashbacks), and his paintings. In her rant about getting organized, Alejandro offers to help, and she is willing to accept, but, of course, with tons of exceptions and expectations. Their personalities are incredibly different – you will know when you see the hardened New Yorker with magenta hair – yet they seem to click. They both need and want something; thus, we see the dance, the give and take, and negotiations to get it. This role is absolutely one of my favorite performances by Tilda Swinton.

MPA rating: R (for some language and sexual content) Running time: 1:38

Problemista opens in theaters in limited release on March 1 and then expands nationwide on March 22.

Source: A24

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