Sundance 2011: BENAVIDES BORN Review

by     Posted 3 years, 237 days ago

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Benavides Born is an exploitation film but not in a fun Hobo with a Shotgun kind-of-a-way.  It’s a clichéd, done-to-death follow-your-dreams story that no one would ever pay attention, but director Amy Wendel uses the hook of having her protagonist be a Hispanic female weightlifter.  This bodes well for my scripts about a gay Asian bobsledder and a transgender Arab archer.  Unfortunately, if those movies turn out anything like Benavides Born, then that doesn’t bode well for the audiences who will endure a dull, sappy story populated with weak actors.

Luz (Corina Calderon) dreams of getting out of her poor Hispanic town of Benavides, Texas by getting an athletic scholarship and going to the University of Texas.  Her sport is weightlifting and she sees winning her weight class as the only route out of Benavides.  The world of female weightlifting is one rarely seen in movies and Wendel had a golden opportunity to use this setting as a grander metaphor for Luz’ struggle.  But that’s asking too much of the director who can’t even be bothered to tell us why Luz does bizarre things like wrap her body in saran wrap or spit into a water bottle.  It’s hinted that she does these things in order to keep within her weight class, but no one bothers to explain how.

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Wendel also has a great chance to honestly explore life in an American-Hispanic community and the limitations and struggles a young woman like Luz faces.  Instead, it looks like Wendel did a drive through the barrio and spent a few hours using the Google and figured that was good enough.  Did you know that poor Hispanics are prime targets for army recruiters?  Were you aware that Hispanic students are subject to random drug searches, which is apparently a good idea because every time they’re done in the film, a Hispanic student has drugs?  And don’t get me started on their kooky grandmothers with their mystical cures which in no way conflict the character’s Christianity.  Apparently, Luz’ abuela is just a big fan of the lowercase ‘T’.

Benavides Born is a character-driven film and it requires talented actors.  Wendel was apparently unable to find any.  All of the actors, and especially Calderon and costar Jeremy Ray Valdez who plays Luz’ boyfriend Reynaldo, are awful.  Their line-readings are stilted to the point where it feels like the cast forgot how actual people talk.  When you have bad actors doing stilted readings of terrible dialogue to further a trite, poorly-directed story, then the major conflict isn’t “Will Luz get out of Benavides or not?”  It’s “Should I walk out of this movie or should I fall asleep?”

Rating: F

For all of our coverage of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my Sundance reviews so far:




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  • PDC

    I saw this movie at Sundance and was definitely unimpressed – BUT actually having spent summers in Benavides in my youth, I would like to say that the “stilted readings” were actually an attempt to capture the local tone. And the grandmother was the most authentic character in the movie – the egg thing was something that I’ve seen my own grandmother do on several occassions – but maybe the writer should have put a little effort into explaining that part as well…

  • Brady

    This is the reviewer that saw what most Sundance viewers saw!

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/sundance-review-penetrating-dramatic-competition-81833

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  • Jim

    Not sure what you mean by a “poor Hispanic town.” Last time I checked all towns in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas were American. And your bewilderment at the seeming contradiction of the “kooky” grandmother practicing curadera while remaining Catholic just demonstrates your complete ignorance of the wonderful complexity of contemporary Mexican American culture. Not sure where the mean-spirited and juvenile tone of your opinions come from but I suspect your stated premise that automatically equates a movie about Latinos to an attempt at “exploitation” speaks volumes about where you’re coming from.

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