Tropic Sprockets / Problemista

By Ian Brockway

Comedian Julio Torres delivers a freewheeling madcap debut with touches of Monty Python, Terry Gilliam, and the Coen Brothers with “Problemista.” [Showtimes and trailer at] The story is eclectic, zany, and colorful, and packed with energy. However, the sheer madcap spirit becomes overrun by a more pronounced trivial and fluffy tone, veering into the cartoon. The film is an off kilter mix of the silly and the serious that it reaches intermittently. 

Alejandro (Julio Torres) is a consumer blogger with aspirations to be a toy maker. Among his ideas are a dishonest Barbie, a doll with a tumor and a stressed-out Cabbage Patch doll.

By a chance meeting, he sees the eccentric Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), an art critic responsible for the upkeep and preservation of her husband (RZA) who is entombed in a cryogenic chamber.

There are heartfelt and poignant passages in the film involving the creative and dreamy child Alejandro in the wilds of El Salvador with a doting mother who is an artist. These segments have verve, color, and spirit with genuine touches of a magical realist fairy tale. But this human spirit gets muddled a bit by the cartoon touches involving RZA as an egotistical painter and his shallow paintings of eggs on canvas along with the sycophantic Bingham (James Scully) who plays his role too blandly. 

Tilda Swinton has some good lines, but her zany eccentricity is too high powered to be real and her character runs too outrageous to be a pointed commentary.

There is a solid bureaucratic send up in the mode of the Coen Brothers involving an immigration lawyer with his double-speak and endless forms. Comical too, is Alejandro’s roommate (Shakina) who steals the film with her blase nonchalance.

For all its imperfections, the film clearly displays that Torres has ambition and talent. 

It is only that this outing feels a bit overzealous in its self-conscious surrealism. Half of the film is a fine magical realist statement on immigration, while the other half is a projection on the meaning of life and silly costuming. Problemista presents a quandary for being two films at once when just one would suffice. 

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