Review

Bella Review

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Nov 02, 2007 | 4:28am EDT

The first time we meet José (Eduardo Verástegui) the up-and-coming soccer star is boasting to a bunch of kids about the big-time contract he's just signed. The next thing you know he's slaving away as the chef at his ungrateful brother's upscale restaurant. How did he go from riches to rags so quickly? Bella takes its sweet time fully revealing the circumstances leading up to José's fall from grace though you can pretty much deduce for yourself what he did just by the way his eyes tear up whenever he gazes at a child playing on the street. For some unfathomable reason José abandons his post to comfort Nina (Tammy Blanchard) a waitress who's just been fired for her tardy ways. Turns out Nina's pregnant and has her mind set on having an abortion. Rather than butt out of Nina's business and go back to work José takes it upon himself to gently persuade Nina to have the baby. Clearly José's seeking a little redemption for his own past transgressions and what better way to achieve this than by making Nina see the error of her ways. Nina's willing to play along especially when José lands her a new job without any effort. Thus begins Bella's leisurely-though quite uneventful-stroll around New York City. The decision Nina makes won't come as a surprise but Bella's epilogue will likely leave you shaking your head in disbelief. It's pretty clear why the distraught Nina would happily spend the day hanging out with a handsome co-worker she barely knows. The soft-spoken Eduardo Verástegui—the Mexican model pop singer and actor who starred as the three-timing himbo in Chasing Papi—exudes an easy charm that would make any woman feel safe and comfortable in his presence. José obviously has an agenda—one born of guilt not religious zealotry—but Verástegui's casual demeanor ensures that the chef never comes across as pushy anxious or judgmental. But every now and then Verástegui allows us a glimpse at the terrible pain and suffering that's reduced José to a shadow of the man he once was. Tammy Blanchard who develops a nice rapport with Verástegui brings a necessary sense of fear and confusion to the role of Nina. That said Blanchard also makes Nina seem particularly strong willed so you never really think that José's soft sell would be enough to make this unemployed waitress change her mind about being a single mother or putting her child up for adoption. As José's unsympathetic brother  Manny Perez does his best impression of Gordon Ramsey on a bad day. Perez never quite gets the comeuppance he deserves though he does share a nice moment with Verástegui at the end of Bella that shows that some brotherly bonds are hard to break. Oh and supermodel Ali Landry puts in an appearance during a couple of Bella's many flashbacks for no other reason than she's married to the director. José is a man on a mission. But is director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde? Bella does not appear to be a film overtly driven by faith and the politics of abortion do not serve as a motivating factor for José's decision to persuade Nina to keep her baby. So it is unclear whether Monteverde's using Bella to subtly advance an anti-abortion agenda or to implore women to think long and hard before making their decision to terminate their pregnancy. Either way it's not hard to imagine activists on either side of the abortion issue co-opting Bella for their own purposes. After all it’s Nina who makes the choice admittedly with a bit of prodding from José. Unfortunately Bellas biggest problem is that you never truly feel that José's accomplished what he set out to do even though the outcome is never in doubt so the big reveal at the end doesn't ring true. In other words Bella's just too sunny to end on a pessimistic note. Perhaps Monteverde intended to leave the door open for a sequel one that has romance on its mind. But Monteverde leaves too many gaps left unfilled for us to accept that this is the decision Nina would make no matter how much she is touched by the kindness of a relative stranger.

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