A Day Without A Mexican

2004, Movie, R, 100 mins

Review

DAY WITHOUT A MEXICAN, A | UN DIA SIN MEXICANOS
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Commissioned by Chicago's Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum as a half-hour short and expanded to feature length, Sergio Arau's mockumentary envisions the chaos that would ensue if every Mexican in California were to vanish without a trace. Athletes, undocumented farm workers, businessmen, television personalities, nannies, actors, busboys … all just gone. An eerie pink fog isolates the state from the rest of the world, the governor is unreachable in Washington and his second-in-command is among the vanished, so Senator Abercrombie (John Getz), who won his seat on an anti-immigration platform, becomes acting governor and must confront the truth head on. Mexicans make up a third of the state's population and a substantial portion of its workforce; without them, the economy goes into free fall and California's social fabric begins to unravel. As comedians make tired jokes ("I wish my mother-in-law were Mexican...") and retailers run "Disappearance Day" sales, businesses fold, a black market in fresh produce flourishes, construction sites are idle and pampered housewives are forced to do their own laundry. Mary Jo Quintana (Maureen Flannigan) loses her husband, musician Roberto (Eduardo Palomo) and son (Santiago Guerrero) but, curiously, not their daughter (Sabrina Howard). Anti-immigration activist George McClaire's (Bru Muller) unseemly glee ignites a simmering feud with his father, Louis (Muse Watson), who knows his orchards will collapse without the loyal workers who plant, prune and pick fruit. The lunatic fringe, from religious fanatics and UFO nuts to conspiracy theorists, has a field day, and least one of its vocal denizens, Dr. Takeshi (Ogie Zulueta), may be on to something. He suspects a secret government program to built smart bombs capable of targeting members of particular ethnic groups. Local TV-news reporter Lila Rodriguez (Yareli Arizmendi) appears to be the only Mexican left in the entire state, a fact exploited shamelessly by her unprincipled station manager (Will Greenberg) and ambitious anchorwoman Vicki Martin (Suzanne Friedline). Their 24-hour coverage, courtesy of the Lila-cam they install in the hospital room where she's recovering from a car accident, brings her to Abercrombie's attention. He persuades her to participate in Dr. Tanaka's experiments, which he hopes — oh, plangent irony! — will bring back the missing Mexicans. Though the shaggy-dog story (a comic spin on the premise of Douglas Turner Ward's 1965 play Day of Absence) suffers a third-act collapse, for the first hour director Arau — whose father is well-known Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Arau — and his co-writer and wife, actress Arizmendi, negotiate the story's tricky mix of comedy, social satire and science fiction with surprising aplomb. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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