Problemista – Movie Review

Renowned for granting its auteurs unparalleled creative freedom, A24 is back with its latest release, Problemista. This time around, it’s comedian Julio Torres making his directorial debut, delivering a vibrant and imaginative twist on the struggle of being an immigrant and the struggle of being an artist.

The film centers around Alejandro, an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador who’s living in the United States with a work visa that is rapidly reaching its expiration. Desperate for a job that will keep him in this country, he crosses paths with a wildly eccentric artist who offers him hope to stay in this country and achieve the American Dream.

Starting in front of the camera, I’ve got to talk about Tilda Swinton. She gives one of the best performances of her career as Elizabeth, an art critic who’s working her hardest to bring her cryogenically frozen husband’s 13 paintings of eggs together for an art gallery for the ages.

If that sentence sounds absurd, wait until you see the whole movie.

To start, she is a monster in this movie, acting almost like a Karen-type figure that imposes her will on all those who surround her. With her strikingly insane red hairdo, she screams at Apple Support when she can’t figure out how to use her iPad and obsesses over the idea of needing to use the outdated program that is File Maker Pro (one of the funniest running gags I’ve seen in a movie in a long time, by the way).

Yet, I never looked at her character and saw a villain; looking through Alejandro’s eyes, I never really saw her as a monster either.

In many respects, you see her as the outsider that Alejandro also is, and you understand through that connection why they have the special bond that they share. Obviously, her experiences as an outsider are much different than our protagonist’s.

With him fighting for his way to stay in this country, it’s most understandable that this predicament and where he stands would make him feel like such an outsider. Despite this, the attitude and the worldview of his character are expressed so well both through Torres’ filmmaking and his central performance.

His physicality as Alejandro is both quirky and fascinating, from the hop-like manner in which he walks to this little strand of hair that always seems to be poking out of place. But the surrealistic nature in which he sees the world simultaneously felt very funny but also grounded in reality.

There are hilarious sequences where he’s talking about the toys he’s invented for his dream job at Hasbro, looking for any side hustle he can find on Craiglist, and navigating the horrors of a customer service call with Bank of America that all end in the most unexpectedly hilarious ways that had my audience howling.

The energy and humor of this movie come from that authentic place, making it obvious that Torres was the best fit to bring his script to life.

The cherry on top of all this is how he depicts his relationship with his mother in El Salvador through his time with her as a child and their WhatsApp calls throughout the movie. Their dynamic is very sweet, but it’s her final sentiments in this movie that really bring the themes of this story all together.

Taking a story of what’s unfortunately a harsh reality for many living in this country and turning it into something whimsical and unique, while also making it feel so very genuine is an impressive balance that Julio Torres achieved. I can’t wait to see what he does next behind the camera.

A24 is releasing Problemista in select theaters on March 1st and everywhere on March 22nd.