Picture a librarian. Is she a mousy middle-aged brunette, her unkempt hair clashing with the muddy browns of her ill-fitting wardrobe? Does she work in silence, worshipping books but resenting their readers, returning every evening to a shoddy apartment and disinterested cat?
Now, imagine that idea of a librarian imagining a “Latin man.” Does he stand a little too close as he guides her, white tourist, around his beautiful country? Do his eyes, the deepest and most soulful she’s ever looked into, dance as he laughs; is he always laughing when he’s not asking her sexily philosophical questions?
And here is this Latin man’s tiny daughter; she lost her mother to cancer but she sure is precocious, talking books and sassing her papi in her atrocious fake accent.
Now you have the characters in Juan Feldman’s After Words.
Marcia Gay Harden’s Jane is the most introverted woman who ever sat behind an information desk. Her library branch is closing, so she sets off for Costa Rica to kill herself in paradise. Instead, she meets Juan (Óscar Jaenada), a single father, tour guide, and occasional gigolo who gives Jane a week of tours in exchange for money he needs to pay for his daughter’s (Jenna Ortega) private school. Juan’s relentless enthusiasm — helped by Jaenada’s superhuman charm — pushes sober, timid Jane to drink beer, climb a mountain, and have what seem to be the first human conversations in her life.
Harden does her best, but the movie hates Jane, frizzing her hair, stuffing her into knee-length pleated shorts (topped with a fanny pack!), and saddling her with a tedious voiceover. Costa Rica is a beautiful place to film, and a woman’s journey into wholeness can make for a fine story. But Feldman, having established all his stereotypes, refuses to push them beyond the motions you know they have to go through from the first scene of lonely Jane crying into her cat’s fur.
Directed by Juan Feldman
Level 33 Entertainment
Opens August 21, Anthology Archives
Available on demand