Heidi Ewing’s narrative/documentary hybrid “I Carry You With Me” (Sony Pictures Classics) is an ambitious project that might be too striving for its own good.
While the movie’s main subjects — undocumented Mexican immigrants and homosexuality — couldn’t be more relevant, something ultimately gets lost in the translation, resulting in potential viewer distraction.
Based on the compelling true story of chef Iván and teacher Gerardo, “I Carry You With Me” moves backward and forward in time, as well as back and forth from dramatic portrayal to real-life depiction. It’s as if Ewing couldn’t make up her mind how she wanted to tell the story, which both works for and against her purpose.
Right from the start, we are given examples of the two worlds in which the movie exists. The first shot is of a young man walking through a field in Mexico. Next, we see a slightly older man walking downstairs into a New York subway station. The man on the subway’s voiceover refers to his recurring dream about Mexico and how he can never return.
The dramatized segments (which dominate the movie) begin in Puebla, Mexico in 1994. We see Iván (Armando Espitia) carrying his young son Ricky (Paco Luna) into the apartment where his girlfriend Paola (Michelle González) lives with her parents. Iván, who has a degree from a culinary institute, works in a busy restaurant as a dishwasher and stock-boy. He hopes to advance to a better position, but his boss tells him to be grateful to have a job and be patient.
His best friend Sandra (Michelle Rodríguez), whom Iván has known since childhood, comes to his apartment and they go out to a gay bar. Gerardo (Christian Vazquez) cruises Iván and Sandra encourages her friend to go to him. They flirt and get more intimately acquainted. Iván talks about his ability to “pass” as straight, a source of pride for him.
This leads to the first in a series of childhood flashbacks that are interwoven into the story. The flashbacks alternate between Iván and Gerardo’s adolescence and early childhoods. They function to illustrate the different levels of acceptance and rejection that each of them experienced, and how that affected the kinds of people they would become. Even as adults, Iván and Gerardo’s interactions with their parents are complicated and problematic.
Iván grows increasingly frustrated with both his work situation and the arrangement he has with Paola. These factors result in his determination to leave Mexico for the US. Gerardo isn’t ready to leave yet, but Sandra decides to join Iván. This segment is especially difficult to watch due to the mistreatment of the migrants, Sandra in particular, because she has difficulty keeping pace.
Once they arrive in New York, Iván and Sandra have different experiences. She is homesick and doesn’t want to stay. Iván is also homesick, missing Gerardo and Ricky, but he’s determined to make a better life for himself. Gerardo’s attempt to immigrate legally is declined. A sense of hopelessness pervades.
But all is not lost for the lovers. Iván gets a lucky break at work and is on a renewed career path. Meanwhile, Gerardo crosses over illegally and shows up on Iván’s doorstep. Once they get over the shock of being reunited, there is a sweet scene where the couple works on improving their English skills. We get the sense that they are going to make it.
Almost 90 minutes in, “I Carry You With Me” makes the shift to documentary footage in “Present Day, NYC.” We see the life Iván and Gerardo have made with each other, as well as the sacrifices, including the 20 years that passed since Iván has seen his son Ricky.
Occasionally a lot to keep track of, it’s hard not to wish that Ewing would have stuck with one format (perhaps the dramatization) over the other. In any event, the story is one that deserves to be told, regardless of the configuration.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.