November 15, 2007

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Bella (PG-13)
A chef weighed down with regret and a waitress filled with “oh, crap”-like shock find comfort in a friendship they develop while kicking around New York for a day in Bella, a film that won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

For whatever that’s worth.

So thick is his beard and so deep is his sorrow that José (Eduardo Verastegui) looks like he’s trying out for Jesus in an Italian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. In reality, he’s a Latino chef cooking in his brother Manny’s (Manny Perez) Mexican restaurant in New York City. For whatever reason, when Manny angrily fires Nina (Tammy Blanchard), a waitress who is late once again, José hurries after her.

Though they don’t appear to have been more than work acquaintances, Nina is soon confiding to José that “late for work” isn’t the only kind of late she is. José decides not to go back to the restaurant and instead takes the newly unemployed Nina for a day on the town, first to a Spanish restaurant where he finds her a new job and then to his parents’ house, which is out near the beach.

His parents are concerned about why he’s showing up with a pregnant, out-of-work waitress. But José is working through something, as we find out when he shows Nina his supercool classic car and explains how it figures into the tragic end of his career as a professional soccer player.

This movie plays like an afterschool special for the recently reborn but a cursory Internet search didn’t turn up the anti-abortion think tank or evangelical church-backed production company that I thought I’d find. I think the movie is genuinely trying to say something about regret and second chances. It doesn’t deliver its message with all that much subtlety but there are small moments in the movie that work — José’s relationship with his parents or his relationship with his brother. Parts of this movie feel jarringly amateurish but there are glimmers in the performances of better work yet to come. C+

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief disturbing images. Directed by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde and written by Monteverde, Patrick Million and Leo Severino, Bella is an hour and 31 minutes long and is distributed in surprisingly large release by Roadside Attractions.