by George Wolf
The most effective way a film can lead us to look at a complex issue from a new angle – or look at it at all – is to narrow the focus. Introduce the issue through characters worth caring about, and suddenly individuals make the stakes more tangible than memes and hot takes.
In his feature debut, Blast Beat director/co-writer Esteban Arango shows fine instincts for just this type of socially aware storytelling.
It is the summer of ’99, and brothers Carly and Mateo (real life siblings Mateo and Moises Arias, respectively) are spending their last few days with high school friends in their native Columbia. They’re moving to the U.S. with their mother (Diane Guerreo), where they will finally join their father Ernesto (Wilmer Valderrama) and build a new life in Atlanta.
A metalhead who’s also a science prodigy, the older Carly sees the move as getting him one step closer to the Georgia Aerospace Institute, and then to his dream job at NASA.
Ne’er do well Teo, though, feels differently. He’s a talented artist, but only seems happy when he’s acting out to show his unhappiness.
Both Arias brothers are terrific, and it is the strength of their performances that keep the film from collapsing when Arango pulls convenient and predictable pages from the Young Adult playbook. Each brother begins making friends, with Teo remaining the fuckup while Carly poses as a student at the Aerospace Institute so he can audit a class taught by a former astronaut (Daniel Dae Kim).
But when Ernesto is suddenly faced with deportation, and when broken promises and unscrupulous lawyers threaten all the family has planned, the film’s investment in character pays dividends. We’re pulling for this family, and these boys in particular.
The immigration question in America is a messy one. But beneath the heated rhetoric and political posturing are real families with complicated stories. Even in the moments when it chooses well-worn paths, Blast Beat brings that message home.