PROBLEMISTA Review: Clever, Witty, Boldly Distinctive

Julio Torres writes, directs, and stars alongside Tilda Swinton in a modestly audacious comedy.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
PROBLEMISTA Review: Clever, Witty, Boldly Distinctive

What is it about toys?

The film opens Friday, March 1 in select theaters and March 22 everywhere via A24 Films.

Dating back to the earliest recorded days of civilization. toys have been inherently fascinating. Some adults lose this youthful fascination, but everyone else appreciates the possibilities that toys present, no matter where they live.

Born in El Salvador, Alejando (Julio Torres) has moved to New York City in order to apply for a new talent program at Hasbro, where he hopes to develop his abiding interest in designing toys as a career. The burgeoning toymaker is thrown for a loop, however, when he loses the job that secured him a visa. With just 30 days to find a new sponsor or risk deportation, he is desperate to find someone ... anyone ... to become his sponsor.

Enter Tilda Swinton.

Or, rather, Elizabeth, the latest wildly-coiffed character to be brought to life by the ever-flexible, ever-enthusiastic Tilda Swinton. Elizabeth's late husband, Bobby (The RZA), died far too young, but Elizabeth paid for his body to be frozen and kept on ice at a high-tech facility, where Alejandro has started working. So they meet at the facility, just before Alejandro loses his job there, laying the groundwork for a prospective job and (perhaps) sponsorship before his visa expires.

Born in El Salvador, Julio Torres wrote the original screenplay and directed, fashioning an outsider's perspective into an insider's take on the U.S., its broken immigration system, and New York's cracked art world. The film is wisely amusing in its observations about, well, everything.

For one thing, Torres wrote narration that comments upon the action with footnotes, as it were, and spoken by Isabella Rossellini in a lilting musical cadence. For another, Swinton's appearance and manner of speech are both highly distinctive, yet she is always treated with respect and deference; after all, she is older than Torres' character; it's how things should be but rarely are in certain cultures.

For a third thing, Torres adds surreal elements to help deal with the harsh realities of the immigration system, which can make many people lose their minds. These elements are folded into the film as a layer of comfort, as it were, recognizing the absurdity while simultaneously acknowledging the impossibilities that are expected by those in positions of power.

Throughout the film, Torres manifests a light touch but a sure hand in guiding the flow of ideas that are gushing out. Problemista inspires many thoughts, such as 'how clever!' and 'yes, that's how it is' and 'why didn't I think of that?' Mostly, though, it inspires laughter and wistful memories of problem-solving that doesn't require bloody violence, only boisterous enjoyment.


  • Julio Torres
  • Julio Torres
  • Julio Torres
  • Tilda Swinton
  • RZA
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A24 FilmsJulio TorresTilda SwintonRZAComedy

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