Maybe it's a cultural thing. In Hollywood movies, fat people are often the butt of jokes and more often than not, obese actors embrace the stereotype that they're just funny-looking fools. So they take the parts and dive in with gusto to make careers exploiting themselves for ridicule. What makes Mexican director Mariana Chenillo's Paradise so refreshing is that it does not look down on the two large leads and balances humor with heart and an insight into relationships that transcends the looks of these characters.
Carmen (Daniela Rincon) and her husband Alfredo (Andrés Almedia) are two chubby people in love. They call each other "gorda" and "gordo" with nothing but affection. Chenillo opens the film with the two making love. The scene features many close-ups and sets up a sense of shameless comfort and confidence between the wife and husband.
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That changes when the couple moves from the suburbs to the center of Mexico City for Alfredo's new job. After overhearing a conversation between two skinny bitches in the bathroom at a company party ridiculing her and her husband's girths, Carmen decides to go on a diet. Alfredo doesn't care what others think about his size but joins his wife in support. When it turns out that he's the only one losing weight, complications in the relationship ensue.
At first it appears we are supposed to perceive these two as losers. They wear matching Gap sweatshirts and are still stuck on a cheesy song from 1984 by Spanish pop band Alaska y Dinarama called "Ni tú ni nadie." But the affection they have for each other stands as a beautiful example of devoted love. That their seemingly strong bond is derailed over a difference that Alfredo is fine to overlook speaks to the delicate threads that bind a relationship. Chenillo, who also wrote the script, plays with the complexities of other factors and what a tectonic shift change can bring to a solid relationship.
It's clear Chenillo is presenting these people with considerate warmth. Both actors give sincere performances that never fall off the edge into buffoonery. OK, there's a montage that includes Carmen failing miserably at yoga, but there is also a scene that captures her solitude to the sounds of Bon Iver's wistful "Holocene." The disconnect from her husband is played as rather tragic, and the two leads capture the pathos required of maintaining that tone, treading a fine line of humor and pathos.
Because Chenillo frames the couple's story with empathy, she cuts to the deeper problems that go beyond their body image issues. Marriage is never really a case of happily ever after, and Chenillo considers the weight loss as a chance to show characters who genuinely grow through an experience. It's a springboard to offer a glimpse at something more universal: what happens when two individuals try to become a unit.
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Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.