Starring: Kate del Castillo, Adrian Alonso, Eugino Derbez
Directed by: Patricia Riggen (debut)
Written by: Ligiah Villalobos (“One World”)

It would be easy to say that “Under the Same Moon” places a spotlight on the immigration issues the U.S. and Mexico are dealing with today, but that’s not all it does. The film follows Carlitos (Alonso), a young boy who journeys across the border to find his mother who has moved to Los Angeles to work for a better life for her and her son.

There is, however, more to this tender drama than talking about border fences, amnesty, and working visas. According to director Patricia Riggen, four million immigrant women leave at least one child behind to come to the U.S. to work. “Under the Same Moon” embraces all the love, sacrifice, heartbreak, and frustration behind this universal story. As a first-time director, it is amazing to see the courage and distinctive style Riggen has injected into the film.

When Carlitos’s grandmother passes away in Mexico, he sets off to reunite with his beautiful mother Rosario (del Castillo) who is earning money as a cleaning lady in L.A. Unfamiliar with the new world he has entered when he crosses the border, Carlitos develops a friendship with Enrique (Derbez), an undocumented worker who initially doesn’t like the idea of a little kid following him around everywhere.

But who can say no to someone as endearing as Carlitos? As the young lead character, Alonso is miraculous. If you don’t recognize him, he played the son of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2005’s “The Legend of Zorro.” Here, he steals every single scene he is in, which is basically all of them. As he and Enrique make their way to California together, the bond that they share is humorous and memorable.

As Rosario, del Castillo provides the best performance of her new-found American career. Known mostly for her work as an actress in Mexico (she stared in telenovelas such as “Azul” and “El derecho del nacer”), del Castillo’s emotions run high to portray this strong and dedicated mother. Unlike her last film, “Trade,” which felt misguided and phony, “Moon” is beautifully written by Ligiah Villalobos, who’s only other work has come from her TV scripts for “Go Diego Go!” Her debut as a feature screenwriter, however, is impressive.

It’s no surprise why “Under the Same Moon” received a standing ovation at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Along with the effective music provided by Los Tigres del Norte (their song “Superman es un ilegal,” which compares a Mexican immigrant to the superhero, is great), the film is a celebration of life, family and the pursuit of happiness.

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