Home MoviesReviews Problemista Review

Problemista Review

by Daniel Reynolds
2.5 out of 5.0 stars

The anxiety at the heart of writer-director Julio Torres’ debut feature, Problemista, is always painfully present. Despite its more fantastical touches, the film’s world of hustling creatives—and the irrational financial forces controlling them—is sharply realized. Capturing that slice of life on-screen is an accomplishment for a filmmaker who’s likely all too aware of those conditions. And now, since I’ve acknowledged that, I can also admit: this film is annoying.

Another disclosure: this is part of Torres’ mission with Problemista. As narrated by Isabella Rossellini, his film is framed around a storybook hero’s journey, starring himself as Alejandro, an aspiring toy designer who has trekked from El Salvador to New York City to make his dream come true. The annoyances emerge every time that dream meets reality, however. Not only is Alejandro’s job (at a cryogenics lab) at risk, but his status in America is constantly under threat, which leads to an unlikely alliance with Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton, dialled up to 11, 14, a million?). She’s a flailing art critic desperate to put on a show for her frozen husband (RZA), a delusion that powers the film. As bizarre as this narrative may seem, its fundamentals are clear: Torres’ Alejandro must navigate the immigration process, the cold-hearted world of art and big business, and the economic calculus that leads someone into the warrens of Craiglist to make money. Taken altogether, sure, it’s enough to drive a person crazy (particularly with Swinton dominating every scene she’s in), so kudos to Torres for animating that particular spirit.

Setting aside matters of my taste, though, Problemista‘s insistent twee tone and “randomness” call to mind the earlier work of Spike Jonze, and the recent mania captured in films like Everything Everywhere All At Once and another A24 feature, Beau is Afraid. The fact that these movies come to mind so easily suggests the true problem here: as real as the details are, the film’s fantasy and sentiment merely scratch an itch that has already been worked raw.

You may also like

Brief Take