Netflix movie All the Freckles in the World is a Mexican coming-of-age story about the new kid in school, a misfit boy vying for the popular, conventionally beautiful girl. Such are the bare plot bones of nearly every coming-of-age story in which teens struggle to keep their heads above the surface of their raging hormonal rapids — but will this film defy convention? And what’s with the freckle thing?
ALL THE FRECKLES IN THE WORLD: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Jose Miguel Mota Palermo’s (Hanssel Casillas) family moves around a lot. It’s 1994. They’re new to Mexico City, and by now, Jose Miguel seems to be pretty good at masking the anxieties of parachuting into a new school mid-year. He’s teased for still carrying a lunchbox, so he matter-of-factly deposits it in the trash. His dad’s a pilot, gone frequently; his mom’s a supportive sweetheart; his little sister is a soccer fanatic. Although he’s small for his age — he’s 13 or 14 I think, but easily could pass for 10 or 11 — his psyche and intellect seem to be developing just fine. He’s more interested in cobbling gizmos out of spare electronics than schoolwork, and calls himself an inventor.
Hormonally, however, he’s as big a mess as anyone of his age. The first day of school, the charismatic Liliana (Andrea Sutton) sidles up to him. She constantly chews bubble gum and wears a nose ring and army-surplus jacket and Doc Marten boots and has an excessively charming crooked front tooth. Does she have freckles? Indeed she does. She gives him a handmade mixtape which, you know, means something for kids of this age in this era. But Jose Miguel also is a doltish human male, and his gaze drifts across the courtyard to Cristina (Loreto Peralta), who’s older, a sophomore, and a head taller than him, but her flaxen hair goes all the way down to there. She too has a healthy smattering of freckles, which leads us to wonder if they symbolize something, although I doubt it’s much more than some sort of nostalgic affection on the part of director and co-writer Yibran Asuad.
And thus, the class divide is drawn. Jose Miguel is torn between Liliana and the misfits, who are his friends, and Cristina and the preppies, who he’d like to infiltrate genitals-first, although he doesn’t really understand that yet. Cristina’s boyfriend is Kenji (Luis de la Rosa), who doesn’t take kindly to Jose Miguel showing interest in her, which is wholly logical. But Kenji is a jerk who likes to tell people he’s Christian and therefore can’t be a jerk because “we’re all brothers,” which, of course, is something a jerk would do.
The Jose Miguel-Kenji rivalry culminates with the school’s mini-World Cup tournament. As these things go, Kenji can thread needles with a futbol. Undeterred, Jose Miguel assembles a ragtag team — the kid with the inhaler, the kid with Forrest Gump leg braces, the perpetually horny kid, the pituitary case, etc. Lucky for Jose Miguel, the pituitary case is a perpetually held-back 19-year-old who happens to play for a minor-league club. Will all this adhere to ancient movie formulas, or does All the Freckles in the World have the chutzpah to be something different?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: All the Freckles in the World feels like the mean average of the overwhelming quirk of indie-ish coming-of-age dramedies (the terminally awful The Book of Henry and the much-better Me and Earl and the Dying Girl come to mind) and a new teen-comedy classic like The Edge of Seventeen.
Performance Worth Watching: Sutton is effortlessly wonderful as the girl who confidently marches to the rock ‘n’ roll beat of her own drum. She gives us all the more reason to empathize with Jose Miguel’s tragic folly, because Liliana is clearly deeper of character than many of their classmates
Memorable Dialogue: Jose Miguel pep-talks his terrifically inept soccer team by getting to the heart of their motivation: “If we win, there’s a big chance that each one of you, after the game, will get a girlfriend.”
Sex and Skin: None, although there’s a bit of very heavily implied naughtiness between the teacher with the high-slit skirt and the pituitary case — the film’s only tonal misstep.
Our Take: My summary above mostly paints All the Freckles in the World as a garden-variety depiction of chronic socio-sexual teenage futility. But that doesn’t do the movie justice. Asuad shows too much affection for his characters to render them the mere sum of their stereotypical superficialities. The film feels more personal than calculated, and as tempted as I am to unleash the phrase “freckle fetish,” this isn’t a Quentin Tarantino foot-fixation situation — Jose Miguel is too clueless and innocent to understand the subconscious impulses driving him toward pointless pursuits.
Asuad shows considerable skill in coaxing meaningful performances from his young cast, drawing character detail in close-up shots of faces. His thoughtful development of supporting roles — especially Jose Miguel’s consistent, unconditionally loving mother, played by Anajose Aldrete — broadens and colors the story. He also actively resists the pat answers and simplistic conclusions that other movies of this ilk exploit, as if they’re solving unsolvable riddles of the human condition by having everyone live happily ever after. In real life, all we can do is move on, and he captures this sentiment perfectly in the movie’s terrific final shot.
Our Call: STREAM IT. All the Freckles in the World is amusing, if not uproarious; familiar but well-written; good, but not life-changing.
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