A Day Without a Mexican

Directed by Sergio Arau. Starring Yareli Arizmendi, John Getz, Maureen Flannigan, Muse Watson, Caroline Aaron, Melinda Allen. (2004, R, 100 min.)

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 24, 2004

The premise is great: What if the residents of California awoke one day to discover all the Mexicans in the state had mysteriously vanished overnight? How would the remaining citizens fend for themselves without the assistance of the vast labor force – both legal and illegal? The filmmakers’ great idea, however, is undone by an unimaginative screenplay, weak acting, and inept technique. Originally a short film, A Day Without a Mexican didn’t survive the transition to feature length without the feeling of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink thrown in. But wait a minute – there actually is a plot point involving a kitchen sink, a sequence that is supposed to explain the mysterious abductions but disappointingly does not. Director Arau (son of Alfonso) films this project as a mockumentary and uses stock character types to populate his film. The nasty buffoons of the INS and the reactionary anti-immigration politicians are up against the know-more-than-they-let-on maids and farmworkers. The film can never seem to find the right tone. It skips from drama to camp satire to educational polemic, interrupting the flow of action every so often to freeze frame a scene against a printed factoid about things like the percentage of farmworkers that are Mexican and reminders that not all Latinos are Mexicans. The cast is not up to these rapid changes in mood, and the film suffers further from its ever-changing points of view. A panoply of characters and situations is introduced and revisited throughout, although there never is any rhyme or reason to the continuity. A Day Without a Mexican plays like a Twilight Zone episode conceived for Mexican television and padded out to three times its half-hour storyline. Its narrative conceit will entertain for a while, but eventually you will long to disappear with the rest of the Mexicans.

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