Bella (Beauty) Reviews
Sounds far too good to be true right? Well that is exactly the story of Alejandro Gomez Monteverde's film, Bella. The inspiring true story of how this film came to be is (kind of) more inspiring than the movie itself. Don't get me wrong, Bella is an excellent film, all things being considered. And to accomplish all of these things with very little experience and a one million dollar budget make the whole endeavor all the more impressive. It's not without flaws, I'll grant you that. But for a movie that should have been a little wisp of nothing, Bella is pretty darn impressive.
The story follows the interconnected tragedies of two characters. Nina gets fired the day she finds out that she is pregnant. Jose has been living with grief and a lost dream for years. Their lives link, and they spend a day walking through New York City, talking about the past, present, and future.
The story isn't the most ambitious thing I've ever seen, but I completely understand its structure. The filmmakers had to take into account the limits of filming on a small budget. So there are no explosions or mind-blowing locations. It's just a simple story about people. The movie reminded me of another 2007 film, Juno. In that both movies are pro-adoption, and in a roundabout way, pro-life. Though it does give off a definite vibe, Bella isn't a Christian movie. But through watching the film (and watching interviews), it's obvious that Monterverde was very intent on making a film with strong moral values. These values don't necessarily spring from religion, but they are still wholesome, through and through. You can tell that the director made a point of making the movie exactly the way he wanted to.
Another thing that Bella is often commended for is its portrayal of the Latino community. In film, Spanish characters always seem to fall into two categories: the thugs and the Don Juans. But this movie successfully breaks that mold by showing Jose and his family as normal, intelligent, hard working people. It's not the biggest deal in the world, but it is a nice change of a stereotype.
The cast is exceptional. The best (and legitimately great) performance belongs to Tammy Blanchard as Nina. This character requires a lot of emotion, and actors in low-budget films don't have the best track record when it comes to properly handling dramatic scenes. But Blanchard is seriously good as the single mother-to-be.
Eduardo Verástegui gives a usable performances as the other main character. Jose isn't given half as much effective dialogue as Nina, his job is more to be the shoulder to cry on. He walks through the movie sporting a vaguely Jesus-esque beard, giving a vaguely Jesus-esque performance. His source of tragedy doesn't feel as organic as Nina's. Still, Verástegui gives nothing less than a good performance.
The supporting cast offers a few surprisingly strong performances. Manny Perez is excellent as the almost comedic relief older brother. All of Jaimie Tirelli's lines are in Spanish, but he still emotes a performances that bolsters the film. And Ali Landry has a small but important part, and she handles it quite well.
I think the main thing that I didn't like about the movie was the ambiguous ending. The movie could have really afforded to tack on an extra five or ten minutes to really wrap up the story. As it is, the end brings more confusion than closure. This flaw, along with some hammy dialogue and slightly-too-convenient character emotional connections prevent the movie from being truly spectacular.
Bella winds up having just the right amount ambition, just the right amount filmmaking flair, just the right amount of drama and comedy, just the right amount of introspection, and a little bit extra in the way of performances. The movie doesn't blow the roof off. But as a first movie for a young filmmaker with a small budget and no real name recognition - Bella is much better than it has any right to be.
"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." 7/10
Sex: The whole movie centers around an unmarried woman's unplanned pregnancy, though no one is seen in bed together. 3.5/5
Nudity: Nina's midriff is seen in one scene. 4.5/5
Language: Nina says someone is "such a piece of...", but she is cut off before she can finish that statement. 4.5/5
Drugs: A pregnant woman is seen smoking. A family drinks alcohol at the dinner table, but one person politely refuses because she is pregnant. Nina mentions that she misused drugs as a teen, but only to say how wrong it was. 3.5/5
Violence: A hit-and-run accident kills someone, and the bloody results are briefly seen. A woman bangs her head against a mirror out of stress. 3.75/5
Frightening/Intense Scenes: The hit-and-run incident mentioned above is made even more tragic by the fact that a little girl is the victim, and her mother is shown losing her mind when she sees it. 3/5
Other: In addition to unplanned pregnancy, abortion is mentioned, which is not a kid-friendly theme. Also, some of the dialogue is spoken in Spanish with English subtitles, which would also frustrate young viewers. 3/5