An enormously likeable ensemble, headed by Marisa Tomei and Anjelica Huston, struggles hard to give the proper color, texture and mood to The Perez Family, Mira Nair’s serio-comic exploration of Cuban immigrants in Miami at the time of the 1980 Mariel boatlift.
Based on Christie Bell’s popular novel, adapted to the screen by Robin Swicord (Little Women), The Perez Family chronicles the entangled lives and romances of Cuban immigrants as they forge a new existence – and new families.
For two decades, Juan Raul Perez (Alfred Molina) has patiently endured hard prison life by dreaming about a reunion with his wife, Carmela (Anjelica Huston), who’s had to raise their daughter, Teresa (Trini Alvarado), alone in Miami.
Finally free and on board a boat to the promised land, Juan meets Dottie Perez (Marisa Tomei), a spunky prostitute who proudly claims, ‘I’m like Cuba, used by many, conquered by no-one.’ Once they arrive in the US, the immigration authorities erroneously enlist Juan and Dottie, who have the same surname, as a married couple. An indefatigable survivor, Dottie takes advantage of Juan’s frustration, realizing that if they want to stay in America they’ll have to become a family.
A major problem is the film’s relentless incoherent, often soft gaze at its characters. Attempting to make at once a charmingly free-wheeling and socially poignant movie, director Nair can’t find the right balance among the tale’s multiple facets.
Tomei is a spunky, attractive performer who has the audience on her side, but it’s still hard to determine whether she can carry a movie. In contrast, the usually reliable Huston underacts, rendering one of her most low-key performances.