2022, Movies

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2022, Aitch Alberto)

This is a coming of age drama about two teenage boys in El Paso in the late 1980s. Jenn and I were not warned it was based on a YA novel and so we did not know what we were getting into. (To clarify: we knew it was based on a novel, we just didn’t know it was a YA novel.)

Mild Spoilers

Though the cast is good and the sense of place feels authentic, this story feels more like a fantasy than a coming of age story. There are at least two aspects of the movie that make it feel this way.

First off, Dante is the male equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. There’s just no getting around it. I have never read the novel, so I have no idea if it’s a problem with the source material (I suspect it is) or the dramatization, but Dante inhabits some serious film cliches, only he’s male.

For me, equally bad is how this feels as if the author is writing a story of how he wished he came of age: Aristotle is tough – so tough he can beat up the local boys who would beat up the gay kids – and he (and here’s where the SPOILER comes in) appears to have the most understanding parents in the world. His parents are so unbelievable for Mexican American parents in 1988 that it severely hurt the movie for me. Is it possible for people like this to have existed in 1988 El Paso? I guess. Would it have been a cliche to have at least one parent be upset about his sexuality? Yes, but it would have still felt more real.

The story is clunky. There are B stories that don’t go anywhere that feel like maybe truncated parts of the novel but who really knows. Then there’s the whole thing with his brother. I won’t go into it but I’ll just say that, traditionally, when you spend this much time focusing on Chekhov’s Gun, it should go off or it should fail to go off in an important scene, it shouldn’t just disappear.

Mostly, it’s a competent debut for the director, and most of the issues with the film appear to be with the source material. The biggest issues with the realization are the rain scene (in which we can clearly see zero clouds in the sky) and the hilariously cheesy graphics at the end of the film.


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