Tortilla Soup (2001) - It's all About Family and Food

Thursday, January 19, 2012

This might not be something that would immediately catch your eye at the rental store. But this obscure film is actually one of the better independent films you’re ever likely to spend a dollar on and two hours with.

Sunday dinner has been a tradition for the Naranjo family for years. Widowed during the important years of his three young girls’ lives, Martin (Hector Elizondo), and his now three grown daughters are still living together. But for lack of reasonable conversation and quality time they share, they may as well be apart. Still, he expects them each to participate in the elaborate, home-cooked meal he prepares each week. An event that always seems to bring out the worst in everyone.

Youngest daughter, Maribel (Tamara Mello) is a free-spirit High Schooler whereas eldest, Leticia (Elizabeth Pena) is the complete opposite. Responsible and sensible to a fault, but she has earned an education and is now a teacher. It's the middle daughter, Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors) who clashes most with her stubborn father, perhaps because they are so much alike.

When I finally saw this film (years after its release), it was something of a trend to see films about "foodies." Whether they chronicled a very famous connoisseur or told a story of tragedy that inspired a romance, the Cineplex has become the newest place for mouth-watering dishes. This low-budget story wasn’t well-received nor did it get the typical amount of acclaim, regardless, there is something unique about its premise. Perhaps it's the way in which it tells its story that makes it irresistible.

Tortilla Soup is a re-make of a foreign film, and while I cannot speak to its virtues, I can discuss my thoughts on this 2001 version. What's different about this is the fact that it really does focus on the food and the preparation that goes into it. This leaves little to no room for the usual more complex character development. In fact, the opening credits offer up a hurried introduction to who will end up being the four main characters and all without telling us who they really are because there is such an emphasis on the food being made by the patriarch.  There is at least one character that really seemed misplaced because writers really gave her no “purpose.” In fact, her primary role acts as the "comic," so in that instance, she was entertaining. 

Eventually, we are invited into more of their personal lives and habits ,but for the majority of the story, it's ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. But oh doesn’t the food more than make up for a lack of character personifications. I am about as far from a gourmet cook as one can be, but do enjoy cooking, so seeing “food” as a mechanism of a screenplay was interesting. The smallest least insignificant ingredients serve a purpose in Martin’s dishes. From the blossoms one usually rips off the end of homegrown squash to making a utensil to brush butter onto food out of an edible substance, everything looks phenomenal.

While the delicious meals may make you smile with delight, there are a few flaws in an otherwise good production. Most the scenes are well-filmed and sweet. In particular there are a handful of the three sisters enjoying typical moments of sisterly affection – one of the more memorable one involves the girls fighting and trying to get Letty to loosen up a bit as they throw plates on the floor. Such rare scenes or even knowing glances serve to brighten the mood of any scene and offer a sense of realism. There are some simple joys that remind us to take life as it comes and to enjoy every minute. Like is short, something we all too frequently forgotten. In the tradition of No Reservations (ironically, also taken from a foreign film), Recipe for Disaster or Julie & Julia, this may have been the precursor, but is still worth checking out. And really, after that all that needs to be said is: Bon Appetite!

CONTENT: we meet Carmen in a state of half-undress with her boyfriend; some suggestive dialogue is part of the scene. Later they flirt and fool around a bit again [another women is glimpsed in nothing but undergarments in her boyfriend’s apartment]. The sister’s tease and cajole one another about their relationships one sister is said not to have been with a man in a decade whereas another supposedly sleeps with every man she meets [informed crudely]. Profanity pops up periodically, but there are a couple misuses of Jesus’ name; Spanish is used a couple of times in suggestive ways where the implication is quite clear. Sex is briefly discussed in cavalier ways. Kids play a couple of pranks that ends up embarrassing someone. There is a death that is quite emotional for the family; an older man also marries a younger woman. Rated PG13.


  1. Sounds like I may need to pick this one up at some point =) Have you happened to see "Sweetland?"

  2. Sounds cute :) Maybe I'll find it somewhere to watch!

  3. Natalie - I quite enjoyed this one. It involves us enough in the characters lives but mainly prepares some scruptious-looking food. =)

    No, I've not seen Sweetland, but I've come close to renting it a time or two. It looked interesting - have you seen it?

    Trinka - it is! =) I saw it for the first time last summer and was charmed by its simplistic story-telling.


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