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Impressive cast fails in lame-humored Perez Family

The Perez Family

Directed by Mira Nair.

Written by Robin Swicord; based on the novel by Christine Bell.

Starring Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molina, Chazz Palmintieri, Angelica Huston, Trini Alvarado, and Celia Cruz.

Sony Copley Place.

By Evelyn Kao
Staff Reporter

The Perez Family is a film with a lot of potential. And with a cast that includes Angelica Huston and Marisa Tomei, one might expect or hope for a great film. Unfortunately, The Perez Family disappoints; it is a film that I wish I could recommend, but cannot.

The primary fault probably lies in the tone and plausibility of the story. It starts off fairly seriously, in 1980s Florida. Castro has just freed all the political prisoners, and fleeing Cubans are arriving in the United States by boat. The main character, Juan Luis Perez (Alfred Molina) has been a political prisoner for over 20 years, and he hopes to be reunited with his wife Carmela (Angelica Huston). On the boat, he meets Dottie Perez (Marisa Tomei), part-time prostitute, part-time sugar cane cutter who is coming to the United States to sleep with John Wayne. Once in Florida, the Cuban refugees live in a stadium where they wait for a sponsor who will help each to find a place to live and a job. Because the waiting list for a sponsor is extremely long, because priority is given to large families, and because they share the same last name, Dottie convinces Juan to pretend to be her husband while he is waiting to be reunited with Carmela. Meanwhile, Carmela and her daughter, played by Trini Alvarado, wait for Juan to return. They send Carmela's brother (Chazz Palmintieri) to find him among the people who are on the boat lift.

After this earnest beginning, The Perez Family decides that it is also a comedy. The story becomes predictable and veers from the path of believability. The characters are inconsistent, hinting that director Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala) can't decide whether or not the movie should address the subject matter realistically. Carmela's brother is an over-protective idiot, who tries to prove how macho he is by punching a wall when he is upset. Perhaps his actions are meant to provide comic relief; instead, they merely add a feeling of unreality. This feeling is reinforced by a father figure enters the story, who dislikes wearing clothes and likes to climb trees.

Even the acting abilities of Huston and Tomei are unable to salvage the storyline and poor script. The characters are unbelievable at times when the story is supposed to be grave and dramatic. And at other times, they are ridiculous.

Marisa Tomei has undergone quite a transformation to play Dottie Perez. She gained over 20 pounds to become the voluptuous prostitute and sugar cane worker. Her physical appearance is quite startling. Regrettably, Tomei has gone through a lot of trouble for a role that is not worthy of her.

Still it is an interesting film, and The Perez Family is not unenjoyable. There are many parts that might have been believable had it not been for the overall tone of the film. Fans of Huston and Tomei may feel, like the reviewer, that it could have been a stellar film, but it just wasn't.