Review: ‘I Carry You With Me,’ starring Armando Espitia, Christian Vázquez, Michelle Rodríguez, Ángeles Cruz, Arcelia Ramírez and Michelle González

July 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Armando Espitia and Christian Vázquez in “I Carry You With Me” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

“I Carry You With Me”

Directed by Heidi Ewing

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico and New York City, the dramatic film “I Carry With You With Me” features a cast of predominantly Latino characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two Mexican men in a gay love affair reach a crossroads in the relationship when one of the men wants to move to the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a chef.

Culture Audience: “I Carry You With Me” will appeal primarily to people interested in movies about Mexican culture, the LGBTQ community and immigrant experiences in the United States.

Michelle Rodríguez and Armando Espitia in “I Carry You With Me” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

The emotionally stirring drama “I Carry You With Me” tells a real-life epic love story between two Mexican men who have different struggles over their sexuality, immigration and what it means to follow a dream. It’s also a poignant story about what it means to sacrifice for love and for personal ambition. And it’s a tale of self-discovery and identity that tests the old adage, “Home is where the heart is.”

“I Carry You With Me” is the first narrative feature film from Heidi Ewing, a filmmaker who’s mostly known for her documentaries, such as the Oscar-nominated 2006 film “Jesus Camp” and the 2012 film “Detropia.” Ewing didn’t completely leave her non-fiction filmmaking behind for “I Carry You With Me,” because Iván Garcia and Gerardo Zabaletae—the real-life men who became a couple in this story—portray themselves as middle-aged men in the unscripted scenes, which are a small but important part of the movie. The majority of the movie’s scenes are scripted, with actors portraying Garcia and Zabaletae as their younger selves. “I Carry You With Me” takes place and was filmed in Mexico and in New York City.

Ewing co-wrote the “I Carry You With Me” screenplay with Alan Page Arriaga. And the idea for the movie came by chance, when Garcia and Zabaletae (who are longtime friends of Ewing) told Ewing their very personal story of how they met, fell in love, and faced immense challenges in their relationship. These difficulties included hiding their romance from homophobic family members, as well as the threat of being torn apart when Garcia moved from Mexico to New York City to pursue his dream of becoming a chef.

According to the “I Carry You With Me” production notes, Garcia and Zabaletae revealed the detailed history of their relationship to Ewing in 2012, when they were all at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Garcia and Zabaletae had no idea at the time that their story would be made into a movie. Ewing says in the production notes: “We had been friends for so long, since before any of our careers took off, but I just didn’t know the details of all they had experienced. So on the plane ride home from Sundance, I wrote everything down that I could remember and sent myself an email called ‘The Mexican Love Story.’ A seed had been planted in my head and I was like, ‘Uh oh, this isn’t going to leave me.'”

Although scenes in “I Carry You With Me” take place in multiple decades, most of the film takes place in the 1990s, during the first few years of Garcia and Zabaletae’s relationship, when they were in their 20s. They met in Puebla, Mexico, in 1994, when Iván (played by Armando Espitia) was a dishwasher at a local restaurant but dreaming of one day becoming a chef. Although this story is about a couple, it’s told mainly from Iván’s perspective.

At this point in his life, Iván is still mostly “in the closet” about his sexuality. He’s a single father to a son named Ricky (played by Paco Luna), who’s about 4 or 5 years old. Iván is a devoted and loving father to Ricky, but Iván is embarrassed that he can barely pay child support. Iván is also terrified that he would lose visitation rights if Ricky’s mother Paola (played by Michelle González) found out that Iván is gay. Paola already has a tense relationship with Iván because he doesn’t make enough money to buy the things that she wants for Ricky.

One of the few people in Iván’s life who knows about his true sexuality is his best friend Sandra (played by Michelle Rodríguez), who has been his closest confidant since they were children. There are flashbacks to their childhood, when Sandra (played by Alexia Morales) and Iván (played by Yael Tadeo), at about 9 or 10 years old, would play dress-up in women’s clothing and wear makeup. Iván’s mother Rosa Maria (played by Ángeles Cruz) is a dressmaker, so Iván has easy access to the gowns that she makes as part of her work.

The movie shows what happens when Iván’s father Marcos (played by Raúl Briones) comes home one day and sees Iván and Sandra during one of their “dress-up” play sessions. He’s surprised and disgusted at seeing his son in drag, but Marcos stops short of physically abusing Iván over it. As for Iván’s mother Rosa Maria, if she ever suspected that Iván was gay, she chooses to be in denial over it, because even into his adulthood, she believes Iván’s claims that he has been dating only women.

The movie doesn’t go into details about Iván and Paola’s failed relationship. But by the time that Iván meets Gerardo, it’s obvious that Iván and Paola will not be getting back together. Iván and Paola are only in each other’s lives because they’re co-parenting Ricky. Paola is portayed as someone who is constantly stressed-out over her finances and disappointed in Iván for not being a better provider for Ricky. However, Paola has a good relationship with Iván’s mother Rosa Maria, who is very present in her grandson Ricky’s life.

Iván and Gerardo meet at a gay nightclub, where Iván has gone with Sandra, and Gerardo is by himself. Gerardo and Iván lock eyes with each other, in the way that people do when they’re immediately attracted to each other. Gerardo makes it clear from the beginning that he’s very interested in Iván because he gets Iván’s attention by shining a red pen light on him.

It isn’t long before Iván and Gerardo make their way to each other and start having a flirtatious and easygoing conversation at the nightclub. The romantic sparks between them are immediate, and they end up kissing the first night that they meet. On the night that they meet, Gerardo is very open about being gay and says that he “escaped” from his hometown of Chiapas, thereby implying that he has a homophobic family too.

Iván isn’t as forthcoming about his own family background. For example, Iván doesn’t tell Gerardo right away that Iván is the father of a child. Gerardo finds out another way, which causes the first big conflict in Iván and Gerardo’s relationship. By this time, Iván and Gerardo have become lovers, and Gerardo is aware that Iván is “in the closet” to almost everyone, but Gerardo doesn’t know to the extent why Iván is so paranoid about it.

By contrast, Gerardo isn’t afraid to live openly as a gay man while he’s been in Puebla. One of Gerardo’s closest friends is a drag queen named Cucusa Minelly (played by Luis Alberti), who is concerned about Gerardo getting his heart broken by the closeted Iván. Gerardo goes to see Cucusa’s drag queen act in a nightclub, and he walks down the street with Cucusa while Cucusa wears heavy makeup. It’s something that Iván would never do at this point in his life.

Gerardo works as a teaching assistant at the University of Puebla. He owns an apartment. And it’s later revealed that he comes from a somewhat well-to-do rancher family in Chiapas. Gerardo’s mother Magda (played by Arcelia Ramírez) and Gerardo’s father César (played by Pascacio López) know that Gerardo is gay, but they don’t like to talk about it. It’s evident when Gerardo takes Iván home to Chiapas to meet his family (Gerardo’s parents, his two younger sisters and younger brother), during the family’s birthday celebration for Gerardo. Iván is described as Gerardo’s “best friend” to the family.

Over dinner in the family home, tensions begin to rise when Gerardo’s father César asks Iván what he does for a living. Gerardo lies and says that Iván is a chef. However, Iván corrects him and says that he’s a dishwasher in a restaurant, while César reacts with a disapproving look on his face. It’s the first time that Iván sees that his sexuality wouldn’t be the only reason why he wouldn’t be completely accepted by Gerardo’s family.

Although Iván hides his sexuality from most of the people he knows, he refuses to lie about his social class, whereas Gerardo seems self-conscious with his family about being close to someone who has a menial, working-class job. Because Gerardo wanted to lie to his family about what Iván does for a living, it hurts Iván’s feelings that Gerardo seems to be ashamed of Iván’s social class. It won’t be the last time their social class differences will cause tension in Gerardo and Iván’s relationship.

The movie also has a harrowing flashback scene of Gerardo at about 8 or 9 years old being bullied by his father, who yells at Gerardo to stop acting like a girl. César is so angry about it that he drives Gerardo to a deserted farm field at night, abandons a frightened Gerardo there, and orders Gerardo not to come home until he can act like a boy. Gerardo ends up walking home by himself at night, in tears. It’s a very traumatic experience that is an example of what Gerardo had to endure until he was old enough to move away from his family.

Iván has become increasingly frustrated with his restaurant job. He had been patiently waiting for a year to get a promotion to become a line cook. But when that job opening occurs, the manager ends up hiring a nephew instead. Iván’s boss also dismissively tells Iván that Iván is lucky to have the dishwasher job and that it sometimes takes years to be promoted to a cook position.

Observant viewers will notice that Iván’s American Dream ambition is largely fueled by wanting to get out of his working-class rut. Meanwhile, Gerardo is more used to being in a comfortable financial situation, so he doesn’t have the same motivation as Iván does to start over and re-invent himself in another country. Something happens later in the movie that hastens Ivan’s plan to go to America, where Iván believes that he will have better opportunities to become a chef.

Iván’s decision to move to the United States as an undocumented immigrant is a turning point in his relationship with Gerardo. Sandra decides to go with Iván (their border crossing is one of the most tension-filled parts of the movie), but will Gerardo go too? That question is answered in the movie, which shows what happened after Iván moved to New York City. Iván’s decision to leave his son Ricky is something that haunts Iván and gives him a lot of guilt.

“I Carry You With Me” inevitably has tearjearking moments, but the movie is also filled with a lot of hope and realistic portrayals of a romance that is far from a fairy tale. There are layers to the story that authentically address the fear, loneliness and resentment that result from decisions made by Iván and Gerardo. The movie is also a keen observation of the American Dream from two different perspectives: one that sees the American Dream as a worthy goal, and one that sees the American Dream as the reason why loved ones are torn apart. And the movie doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsh realities of bigotry experienced by undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who aren’t white and who don’t have English as their first language.

All of the main actors give convincing performances, but Espitia’s portrayal of Iván is the one that will stay with viewers the most. Espitia has a wonderfully expressive face that can convey so much without saying a word. Gerardo has also gone through his share of trials and tribulations in this relationship and as a gay man, but Iván’s journey is more complicated because he has a child who will be forever affected by his decisions. “I Carry You With Me” is one couple’s real-life love story, but it has an outstanding way of speaking to larger issues of what people will do in the name of love and to make better lives for themselves.

Sony Pictures Classics and Stage 6 Films released “I Carry You With Me” in select U.S. cinemas on June 25, 2021.

Review: ‘Call Your Mother,’ starring David Spade, Louie Anderson, Awkwafina, Roy Wood Jr., Norm Macdonald, Kristen Schaal, Bridget Everett and Fortune Feimster

May 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

David Spade and his mother, Judy Todd, in “Call Your Mother” (Photo by Jenna Rosher/Comedy Central)

“Call Your Mother”

Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

Culture Representation: The documentary “Call Your Mother” features a racially diverse (white, African American and Asian) group of mostly American comedians talking about how their mothers have affected their lives, with some of the comedians’ mothers also participating in the documentary,.

Culture Clash: Some of the comedians describe having nonconformist or dysfunctional childhoods that are often used as material for their stand-up comedy acts.

Culture Audience: “Call Your Mother” will appeal primarily to people who want to learn more about the family backgrounds of some well-known comedians.

Louie Anderson with a picture of his mother, Ora Zella Anderson, in “Call Your Mother” (Photo by Alex Takats/Comedy Central)

If you ask any stand-up comedian who’s the family member most likely to inspire material for their stand-up comedy act, chances are the comedian will answer, “My mother.” With that in mind, the documentary “Call Your Mother” interviews a variety of comedians (and some of their mothers) to talk about how with these mother-child relationships have affected the comedians’ lives. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, “Call Your Mother” might not have a deep impact on society, but it accomplishes what it intends to do. The film is a mostly light-hearted, sometimes emotionally moving and occasionally raunchy ride that will give some psychological insight into how and why these comedians ended up where they are now.

“Call Your Mother” includes interviews with a notable list of comedians (almost all of them are American), including Louie Anderson, Awkwafina, Jimmy Carr, Bridget Everett, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Judah Friedlander, Jim Gaffigan, Judy Gold, Jen Kirkman, Jo Koy, Bobby Lee, the Lucas Brothers, Norm Macdonald, Jim Norton, Tig Notaro, Yvonne Orji, Kristen Schaal, David Spade and Roy Wood Jr.

In some cases, the mothers of these comedians are interviewed alongside their comedic children: Everett, Feimster, Schaal, Spade and Wood all have wisecracking moments with their mothers, who are also shown in the audiences while their children are on stage, as well as backstage or at home. Former “Saturday Night Live” star Macdonald is also interviewed with his mother.  (For whatever reason, no Latino comedians are in the documentary, which is a shame, because there are many Latino comedians who talk about their mothers in their stand-up acts.)

Bridget Everett’s mother, Freddie Everett, is memorable for being as foul-mouthed and crude as Bridget. (Freddie even gives the middle finger to the camera, but all in good fun.) Bridget Everett says, “My mother is really one of a kind. She’s the person you meet that you never forget. She can be kind of mean, but somehow she gets away with it.”

Bridget continues, “She’s got a real naughty streak in her,” when describing how her mother was the type to wear very revealing outfits in places where it would be inappropriate for a woman’s breasts to be openly displayed. “There’s something really liberating about that in a small, conservative town.”

Like many of the comedians interviewed in this documentary, Bridget Everett is a child of divorce. After her parents’ divorce, her mother Freddie (who raised six kids) would take a pre-teen Bridget with her to stalk her ex-husband, mainly to see if he was dating anyone new or other reasons to spy on his post-divorce love life.

Bridget remembers her mother telling her to look in windows and report what she saw to her mother. These experiences are part of Bridget Everett’s stand-up act.  And just like her mother used to do when she was young, Bridget Everett dresses in cleavage-baring outfits on stage. “My mom pulses through my performance,” she says. “It’s really a tribute to her.”

British comedian Carr says although his mother “was the funny person in the house,” she often suffered from depression. He turned to comedy to help cheer her up. He says of stand-up comedians: “Most of us come from unhappy childhoods.”

Fans of Louie Anderson already know about how he grew up in a home with an abusive, alcoholic father and a loving mother, because he’s used his childhood as joke material in his stand-up act for years. In the documentary, Anderson (who’s been doing stand-up comedy since 1978) says that he started out doing self-deprecating fat jokes, but he eventually switched to mostly jokes about his family when he saw that it got a stronger reaction from audiences. He also says that dressing in drag for his Christine Baskets character in the FX comedy series “Baskets” was a tribute to his mother, Ora Zella Anderson.

Anderson believes that there’s a reason why so many stand-up comedians come from dysfunctional, often abusive households: “I think comics are about control. They’re trying to control the whole situation, because we had no control growing up.”

Anderson also echoes what most stand-up comedians said in Comedy Central’s documentary “This Is Stand-Up” about gravitating to stand-up comedy because it was their way of being the center of attention and getting unconditional love from people, even if it’s for the limited time that the comedians are on stage.

Spade is another child of divorce. His father left his mother when he was a child, and he says it had long-lasting effects on him and undying respect for his mother, Judy Todd. “My mom is very positive and upbeat and also very funny and clever.”

Todd is seen visiting the set of her son’s talk show “Lights Out With David Spade” on her 82nd birthday, where the audience shouts “Happy Birthday” to her, and she’s invited on stage with the interview guests. Todd is somewhat “normal,” compared to what other comedians have to say about their mothers. She’s almost downright reserved, since she doesn’t do anything to embarrass her son.

The same can’t be said for what comedians Koy, Lee and Gold have to say about their mothers, whose cringeworthy mothering techniques have been fodder for much of these two comedians’ stand-up comedy acts. Koy, who was raised by his divorced Filipino mother, Josie Harrison, remembers how his outspoken mother would inflict terror on anyone who would dare to criticize him.

Bobby Lee talks about how his Korean immigrant mother, Jeanie Lee, used to call his name to get his attention, just so she could fart in front of him. And when they would go to a shopping mall, she would encourage Lee and his younger brother to play in the shopping-mall fountain, while she would take a nap on the floor in a store. Lee, who is a recovering alcoholic/drug addict, also claims that his mother was fairly good-natured about his multiple trips to rehab, whereas most other mothers would be horrified or ashamed. He describes a moment during a family rehab meeting where his mother got the family to laugh so hard in what was supposed to be a serious gathering, they almost got kicked out of the meeting.

Judy Gold says in the documentary that she had the quintessential nagging, over-protective Jewish mother, Ruth Gold, who liked to leave long, demanding phone messages. Gold’s mother passed away in 2015, but Gold still plays some of her mother’s phone messages in her stand-up comedy act. She also plays some of the phone messages in the documentary and remembers that she did not get much overt affection from her parents when she was growing up.

Gold also says that her parents weren’t the type to hug their children and say, “I love you.” Instead, in her family, people would be rewarded based on whoever did the best to “one-up” the others with a quip. Still, Gold says that toward the end of her mother’s life, she did express her love more openly, and she shares an emotionally touching memory of what happened the last time she spoke with her mother.

One of the issues that the documentary covers is how mothers react when they find out that their children want to be professional comedians. Roy Wood Jr. says it was a very uncomfortable experience for him, since he had dropped out of Florida A&M University after being put on probation for shoplifting. He secretly started doing stand-up comedy in 1999, and when he told his mother, Joyce Dugan Wood, that he wanted to do stand-up comedy full-time, she was very upset.

“She definitely felt my priorities were in the wrong place,” he says. So, in order to please his mother, Roy went back to Florida A&M. And when he graduated, he gave his mother the plaque of the college degree that “I didn’t need” and began pursuing a full-time comedy career. Now that he’s become a successful comedian (including a stint as a correspondent on “The Daily Show”), Wood says of his mother’s approval: “These days, I feel supported.”

When comedian/actress Awkwafina (whose real name is Nora Lum) was 4 years old, her mother died, so when she was growing up, her paternal grandmother was Awkwafina’s main mother figure. While most people in Awkwafina’s family had expectations for her to going into a traditional profession, her paternal grandmother encouraged Awkwafina to pursue her dreams in entertainment.

Although many of these comedians say vulgar things about their families in their stand-up acts, the documentary shows that a lot of stand-up comedians have a soft spot for their mothers and like to hang out with them. Kristen Schaal and her look-alike mother, Pam Schaal, are seen shopping together at a fabric store. Norm Macdonald and his mother, Ferne Macdonald, play Scrabble and golf together. Wood’s mother Joyce accompanies him to a tuxedo fitting.

But not all of these mother-child moments are warm and fuzzy. Some of the comedians, such as Norton and Spade, admit to changing their shows to being less offensive and less raunchy if they know their mothers are going to be in the audience.

Norton says that he’s felt uncomfortable at times when his sex life (which he talks about in his stand-up comedy routine) is a topic of conversation with his mother. Norton remembers how after he did a stand-up show where he talked about his experiences of hiring hookers, he got a call from his mother suggesting that he join a gym to meet new people and improve his dating life. (In the documentary, he even plays the voice mail from 2001 to prove it.)

As for talking about their mothers in their stand-up comedy acts, Koy says that it was hard for him to do at first, but his mother and the rest of his family have gotten used to it. Feinstein says about her mother: “She likes it when I impersonate her. She gets upset if I don’t.”

Fortune Feimster says something similar, in an interview seated next her mother, Ginger Feimster: “She would rather me talk about her and be the center of attention than me not talk about her at all,” Fortune says. “She’s a good sport and she likes the attention.” Ginger Feimster says in response, “That is so true.”

Whether these comedians’ relationships with their mothers have been good or not-so-good, one thing that most people can agree on is a sentiment that Gold expresses in the movie that is a tried and true cliché: “There’s nothing like a mother’s love.” And at the very least, this documentary might inspire people to get in touch with their mothers to express gratitude if their mothering wasn’t a complete disaster.

Comedy Central premiered “Call Your Mother” on May 10, 2020.

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