A young girl’s overactive imagination and her single mom’s emotionally stressed lifestyle breed a combustible domestic scene in “More Than Anything in the World,” an affecting feature debut from co-writer-director team Andres Leon Becker and Javier Solar. Given mom Emilia’s (Elizabeth Cervantes) sour luck with her love life and daughter Alicia’s (Julia Urbini) belief in monsters under every bed, this is one pleasantly underplayed drama that could have drowned in melodramatic soup. Instead, it’s flawed only by a predictable, soft ending. Equal appeal to women and girls should secure good Mexican biz and Latin American sales.
In the kind of role once owned in the American cinema by Michelle Pfeiffer, Cervantes (“Volveras”) firmly establishes the emotional contours of Emilia’s emotionally split life: A busy corporate woman devoted to only-daughter Alicia, juggling office duties, getting Emilia to school on time (which seems seldom) and finding Mr. Right. But it’s Alicia who narrates, and whose p.o.v. eventually commands attention, so the pic creates an interesting cinematic tension for aud loyalties.
Moving into a new pad after splitting with a married beau, Emilia finds the Mexico City freeway traffic from her new locale is a big hurdle for delivering Alicia to her classes. Feeling somewhat left out as mom is trying to sort out her new life, Alicia becomes vulnerable to the most garish imaginings of her schoolmates, particularly how vampires are known to inhabit apartments. Her prized photo of her and mom at the beach has been lost in the move, but retrieved by cancer-ridden neighbor Hector (vet thesp Juan Carlos Colombo), who retreats to his bedroom to wait out his final days.
Alicia is a contempo sister spirit of Ana Torrent’s Ana in Victor Erice’s Spanish classic, “Spirit of the Beehive,” both channeling emotional hurts into a self-created world where monsters stalk. Becker and Solar are particularly attuned to a fair-minded view of both mother and child; even if their camera, adopting Alicia’s spying-behind-the-door voyeurism, seems allied with the girl, their scenario is empathetic to both parental stress and needs as well as a tyke’s weaknesses.
Cervantes explores Emilia’s full range of desires, concerns and pressures, and little Urbini is terrif,involving in both her quietest moments and her tantrums. With blood draining from his face and hardly a word uttered, Colombo’s neighbor is a somber picture of death that’s all that Alicia needs to glimpse to leap to her worst thoughts.
After all of this, the pat Hallmark-card ending seems something of a cheat, and certainly feels like a concession to someone’s idea of being audience-pleasing. Production package is solid, with good contributions by lenser Damian Garcia and music group Austin TV’s subdued score.