Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

“Problemista” USG Movies review: bizarre love story has a big heart

Edward Rogers / The Daily Princetonian

Feb. 22nd, 2024 marked the early screening of buzzworthy A24 film “Problemista” for students at the Garden Theatre. The film was shown as part of the USG Movies Committee’s ongoing advance screening series, which allows Princeton students to see up-and-coming indie films for free. The film opened to a packed house of students and the committee provided free popcorn and refreshments.

Director of the film Julio Torres also stars as the protagonist Alejandro, a twenty-something immigrant from El Salvador who struggles to achieve his dream as a creator of nonsensical toys, such as a slinky that doesn't fall down the stairs when pushed. Continually rejected from jobs, he earns money through Craigslist in hopes that he’ll find a sponsor for his work visa. Throughout his struggles, Alejandro encounters Elizabeth, played by Tilda Swinton, an eccentric middle-aged art curator who can’t afford to continue paying the cryogenics company that is currently keeping her deceased husband frozen. Alejandro agrees to help Elizabeth honor her deceased husband if she sponsors his visa, and the two set off to organize an art exhibition of Alejandro’s eccentric egg paintings in New York City.


The film’s plot and style are as wacky as you’d imagine. Julio Torres is well-known for his surrealist humor that effectively combines fantasy and reality. We see this world through Alejandro’s unique vision as he uses imagery that encapsulates his vivid feelings and deep messages, such as a never-ending maze of trap doors to describe the American immigration process. Torres also personifies the everyday objects that he encounters in his life. For instance, he frequently interacts with a human embodiment of Craigslist played by rising star Larry Owens. This combination of reality and fantasy, along with brilliant, idiosyncratic score, brings the classic story of immigration and the American Dream into a new light.

That being said, the real glue of the film is the push-pull performances of Torres and Swinton as Alejendro and Elizabeth. Alejandro is quiet, pensive, and nervous but infinitely ambitious, while Elizabeth is brash, loud, and ready to pick a fight with whatever waiter or receptionist who crosses her the wrong way. The chemistry between such polarizing personalities works well, driving the film’s humor and, ultimately, the film’s heart. It is when these oddballs ultimately realize that they are not so different after all — both wholly misunderstood and pursuing a wild dream — that the film’s message about perseverance and individuality is achieved. The result makes for an odd and unique platonic love story.

However, Torres and Swinton do not always do their characters justice with their performances. There are painful setbacks among Alejandro's journey to success that beg for honest, unrestrained emotion, but Torres seems to resist these needed temptations in favor of a more reserved sadness. On the opposite end, Swinton sometimes over-acts as Elizabeth, turning her character from a misunderstood human into a fire-breathing dragon instead (sometimes literally). These misguided creative choices limit the film’s emotional potential and make the film’s ending seem not entirely deserved.

In the end, though, “Problemista” shines as a unique take on the immigrant experience that makes for a powerful but flawed statement about the need for sticking to your true self even when the world may not understand. The film is sure to make a splash in theaters during its wide release this Friday, March 1, just as A24’s Best-Picture-winning film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” did when it premiered in 2022.

Edward Rogers is a contributor for The Prospect from Durham, North Carolina. He can be reached at[at]