Directed By Julio Torres

Starring – Julio Torres, Tilda Swinton, RZA

The Plot – Alejandro (Torres) is an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador struggling to bring his unusual ideas to life in NY. As time runs out on his work visa, a job assisting an erratic art-world outcast becomes his only hope to stay in the country.

Rated R for some adult language and sexual content

Problemista | Official Trailer HD | A24 (


A24 has garnered a reputation for itself as the daring little production company that could championing these boldly innovative projects, and while plenty in their library of successes could easily speak volumes towards this concept, perhaps none of them scream it as loudly as the debut directorial effort from Torres. Imaginative doesn’t even begin to describe what we’re working with here, as Torres, a former Saturday Night Live writer gone Hollywood, elicits refreshingly expressive manners into aspects about immigration, redemption and especially anxieties that permeate artistically throughout his engagement, leading to an enriching experience that you don’t typically receive from comedies anymore, but beyond that a showcase for the triple threat of Torres’ capabilities here, which constantly emit passion project vibes from his thought-provoking execution. The refreshing humor outlines the strangely stupid of worldwide policies, with Torres bluntly dry deliveries from characters during absurdist situations bringing to light the absurdity of their quandries, while his visuals endear audiences to a combination of child-like pageantry and parody that make this feel keenly psychological. This is where the editing really works its magic, as themes and topics discussed in the foreground of the narrative give way to silly exploits during unique cutaways that seem to always effectively reach their mark, without the overabundance of vulgarity or crude humor to their sensibilities. My personal favorite involves Alejandro’s ideas for unconventional children’s toys as a running joke throughout the proceedings, with revolving canvasing of the product and overhead narration read by Torres himself, to convey the emphasis and accessibility into an anxious party whose mouse wheel of creativity is constantly moving. The same can be said for Torres innovatively endearing direction, with technical components effortlessly illustrating insight into a character emotion or predicament that shamelessly felt familiar for a worry wart like myself. As previously indicated, the editing has a way of triggering Alejandro’s disconnect from reality, but the camera work and musical compositions are even more elaborately layered and immersive, amplifying the urgencies and uncomfortability of our protagonist with rising tensions that we constantly and coherently interpret, all the while never losing site of the comedic dependency that the movie maintains throughout some truly tense and dire situations. Composer Robert Ouyang Rusli pitches truly triumphant compositions of whimsical wonder that elicit a fairy tale like charm ofver the proceedings, and when combined with the extent of Alejandro’s journey, makes this feel like a cross-world odyssey for conflicts that are routine for capable parties, but feel condensed in paranoia and claustrophobia from a man-child whose motherly coddling might very well be the cause for the emotional incapabilities before us. Torres as a screenwriter does momentarily delve into Alejandro’s origins, but never as anything that wears like a wet blanket to the duration of the movie’s 99 minute run time, instead serving as momentary glimpses into his past that help contextualize the character we see before us. While certain moments throughout the engagement feel like they’re distancing Alejandro from the forefront of the narrative, they’re actually broadening his outlook with platitudes of experience that help him conquer the fear of isolation and helplessness that motivate his often cryptic actions, leading to a full-fledged evolution in arc that snuck up on me by film’s end with three-dimensional transformation. All of this would be meaningless, however, if the performances weren’t up for the cause, and while casting himself as the primary protagonist would burden most actors, Torres rises to the occasion with a portrayal that is every bit sweetly charming as it is tensely compelling. Aside from the child-like innocence that adorns his curiosities and one funny skip down streets, Torres imbeds uncompromising tenderness to the character that makes him immediately likeable in the grasp of so many of life’s unpredictable elements, with a timidly trepid delivery that constantly brings to life the earnesty from within him that is easily penetratable. Tilda Swinton also hands in what I’m confident in saying is her single best performance to date, as an intense Karen of sorts who constantly serves as a the fuel to Alejandro’s anxious fire. That summary would normally invoke feelings of hatred towards a character written like hers, but Swinton is a fiery delight to indulge upon, chewing the scenery with unbridled selflessness and anguish to anyone in her crosshairs, which she always gets the upper hand with, regardless if she sees it that way or not. The dynamic between these two begins a bit rocky during their defining moments, but eventually evolves to something cathartic and therapeutic for each, in that Elizabeth sees Alejandro as the missing human connection that she’s needed since her husband’s untimely passing, and Alejandro fills the motherly void from her that was left behind in the long-distance move of his opportunity seeking adventure. Even supporting work from Rza, Greta Lee and my personal favorite, Larry Owens as the manifestation of Craigslist, offer needle-moving memorability to roles that would otherwise be deemed forgettable in a film as elaborate and detailed as this, and with Torres commanding their effecivities, it proves that he’s capable of steering some pretty big name personalities into daring avenues of exploration that they’ve each probably never come close to. Lastly, while the film is overtly comedic in tone and execution throughout the talents of the ensemble, its closing moments mature into something sweetly sincere and genuine between its dual protagonists, radiating a generation-crossing connection that comes across as the full-fledged manifestation of one of the script’s many long-running jokes. In this instance, however, instead of closing matters on the punchline of the gag itself, which I fully saw coming, it instead soaks everything that each character did for the other, which I didn’t, ending the film on the bordering of tears that it not only fully earns, but also subscribes to, in a story with no shortage of meaningful emotional displays.


Not much to scoff at, but I do wish more attention was paid to Alejandro’s immigration plight, especially since Torres himself wanted to include it as a prominent focal point towards the movie’s urgency. Torres himself has stated that he didn’t want to drag the film down by being another haunting depiction of immigration, but I feel like it’s those stakes that are most noticeably missing in the duration of this experience, with one solitary scene of desparation serving to the horrifying realities that otherwise tenderly knock, but never intrude upon his absurdist escapism blanketed in feel-good humor. Beyond this, my only other issue with the film pertained to some of the pacing during the second act, primarily when the story pivots more dedicatingly towards Elizabeth than it does Alejandro. As previously conveyed, this does eventually evolve towards something sweetly sincere and redeeming for her character and the exploration of the film, but reveling in it a bit longer than necessary during character-building moments result in overwhelming tedium, and a need for me to check my watch at only the forty-five minute mark of the film.

“Problemista” is a wildly expressive and cinematically daring debut for Julio Torres, whose triple threat helming over the film’s creative capacities elicits a freshly innovative take on a familiar story. With imagination and absurdism by the dozen, the film obscures realities while offering an insightful look at diagnosed anxieties, and for the A24 brand, helps discover another creative visionary, in the same way they’ve done countless times before.

My Grade: 9/10 or A-

2 thoughts on “Problemista

  1. Yesss! All my concerns of this not meeting it’s cool potential from the trailer are absolutely resolved after reading your review! I also love that A24 is still committing to releasing the unique stories. That’s when they really shine. I cannot wait to catch this! Your rating and positives make me excited to see this edging towards the top of your Best of List at the end of the year! Great review!

  2. Great review! This sounds like a great movie! Wonderfully acted and written, with a unique story to tell about trying to make your dreams come true. Tilda Swinton is always enjoyable to watch, and it sounds like this is one worth checking out!

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