A feel-good mother-son tearjerker that never seriously threatens tragedy, Under the Same Moon presents a bifurcated week in the life of Rosario (Kate del Castillo), a thirtysomething undocumented domestic worker living in East Los Angeles, and her nine-year-old son Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), whose new sneakers and Superman birthday piñata don’t salve the ache of his mother’s four-year absence from their Mexican home. While Rosario ponders a marriage of convenience with a courtly security guard to gain citizenship, down south her own mother dies suddenly, and left without a guardian, Carlitos determines to join Roasrio in Los Angeles. Carlitos turns to a pair of young U.S.-born “green mangoes” (one played by Ugly Betty‘s America Ferrera) to smuggle him to El Paso, but when the inexperienced coyotes’ car is impounded with the boy still hiding in a hollowed seat, he’s stranded and penniless, narrowly escaping being sold into wage slavery (or worse) until he’s rescued by the first in a series of fortuitously present Samaritans.
The son’s odyssey has a primal pull, and the sunlit streets of the barrio, the Latino domestics’ struggles, and the Southwestern laborers’ itinerant days are all efficiently scoped but often clotted with sentimental formula. Writer Ligiah Villalobos checklists all the familiar motives, fears, and hopes of migrants living an underground life, and the details in the paths of her juvenile hero and striving heroine are the stuff of eternal “topical” TV movies. Debut feature director Patricia Riggen has cast sympathetic and attractive actors, but falls prey to heavy-handed shots of the full moon shining through Rosario and Carlitos’s bedroom windows.
Forming a fugitive alliance with reluctant “illegal” Enrique (Eugenio Derbez) after they are chased by the INS from a farm job, the boy manages to meet his long-gone father in Tucson before heading to the coast; young Alonso, an angelic moppet whose career figures to thrive at least until his voice breaks, makes the fable’s most fanciful leaps—Carlitos finding a dishwashing job instantly, gruff Enrique impulsively opting for self-sacrifice—marginally digestible. His first-reel vision of the intersection where Rosario makes her weekly pay-phone call to Mexico preordains the final mini-miracle. Under the Same Moon aims to get audiences to blubber at the trials of mother and child but doesn’t persuasively put convincing flesh on people caught in the immigration firestorm.