Published July 1, 1997
Star Maps, written and directed by Miguel Arteta, tells the story of Carlos (Douglas Spain) who comes from his grandparents’ house in Mexico, much against his mother’s wishes, to live with the rest of his family in Los Angeles: his father, Pepe (Efraim Figueroa), his mother, Theresa (Martha Velez), his sister, Maria (Lysa Flores) and an idiot brother called Pancho. His mother has had some kind of mental breakdown and now seems to spend all her time in front of the TV dreaming of and talking to (as she imagines) the great Mexican comedian, Cantinflas. Pepe, meanwhile, is running a prostitution ring under the cover of “Star Maps,” or guides to the homes of the Hollywood stars. As it happens, Carlos himself is dreaming of becoming a star, but he consents to work as one of his father’s male prostitutes to make his way until he can get the long-desired job as an actor.
Even if this tale were not told with the kind Latin melodrama that is not much to the taste of Anglo viewers, its premiss would be far too dubious for the film to strike us as convincing enough to be enjoyed. Here’s a guy who’s willing to do anything, not even to get to the top but just to live in L.A., and whose dreams of stardom might as well be dreams of winning the lottery. In a word, Carlos is a fool, and it is hard to make a fool into a hero, especially when his foolishness is accompanied by moral weakness and vice.The degree of personal abasement in this kind of life is so great to start with, its motivation so trivial, that you can’t really (or I couldn’t really) sympathize with the kid in spite of his horrible father and his crazy mother. In fact, Carlos’s burning desire to be a movie star, idolized by millions, is only another form of the same delusion on which the dreadful Pepe trades: namely, that love is a commodity.
It is also not very believable that one of Carlos’s clients turns out to be a beautiful actress on daytime soaps called Jennifer (Kandeyce Jorden), who offers him a bit part as the Mexican gardener who sleeps with the lady of the house. Jennifer is married to Martin, the producer of the show (called “Carmel County” ), who talks ineffectually of making documentaries or something else that he considers to be socially responsible. Thus Jennifer gets Carlos into the soap opera by enthusing to her idealistic cuckold of a husband that this is “one of the most socially responsible shows we have ever done.” His struggle to be free of the vicious, manipulative Jennifer piquantly parallels Carlos’s own, but when in the end they both break free, and Carlos also spurns from him his pimp-father, it is difficult to decide which is the more depressing prospect, that of Carlos’s stardom or that of Martin’s liberated social conscience.
There are one or two funny moments, as when we are given a sample of the dialogue written for Carlos’s brief appearance in “Carmel County.”
“Some of my best friends are Mexican,” says the lady of the house.
“But none of your other Mexican friends can mow your lawn the way I can,” says the naughty Carlito. He then goes on to talk of his “machete” and his “leaf blower” while the chatelaine supposedly calls (faintly) for help and says: “I’m helpless and I’m white.”
But even that line, even the wonderful disclaimer over the closing credits notifying us that “although the characters in this film were portrayed as eating grapes, this is in no way intended as an endorsement of non-United Farm Workers grapes,” even these wonderful moments are not worth sitting through the rest of this miserable stuff for.