Although I realize I am late to the Pro-Pro-Life Bella Ball, perhaps that's what, in this case, makes my blog so apropos. In its year-plus of existence, Fighting Irish Thomas has always been a day late and (at least!) a dollar short, but this beautiful movie found itself in the same category—and delivered anyway.
The winner of the 2006 People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, most pro-lifers by now know the basic outline of this low-budget love story, so only a capsule review seems necessary. While working as a chef at his brother's Mexican restaurant, José, played by the charismatic Eduardo Verástegui, watches his business-hardened brother Manny (Manny Perez) fire Niña, a distraught waitress played ably by Tammy Blanchard, and through either genuine or misplaced compassion, walks out after her. Niña is initially cold to José, but eventually his genuineness prevails and she tells him her story, including the part that she is pregnant from a man she no longer sees and with a baby she does not want. José, a broken man in his own right, says little but listens mightily, and somehow over the course of the next day and a half, his quiet heroics, as the trailer says, "changes three lives."
In Roger Ebert's review (Roger gives Bella 3 stars), the venerable flick critic claims that Bella is not a pro-life movie, a statement I'm sure every pro-life viewer who witnessed it would disagree with. But perhaps this is Bella's greatest success; it airs both the pro-life and pro-choice sides of the argument fairly, and, largely because one good person had the guts to take a stand, the pro-life side wins. Give Eduardo and Tammy credit here, for without their believable performances (as well as Bella's inspired use of scant resources), such a victory could never have occured.
As for the movie's shortcomings, I'm sure some of them are due to the fact the film was shot with very little cash. Sometimes the characters talk too much, and sometimes the film jumps ahead in years so fast it seems to say too little. For example, how José went from a big-time soccer star to a small-time cook (not to mention from a clean-cut look to sporting a beard so thick Ebert refers to it as "befitting a 19th century anarchist") is revealed, but why he did not resume his playing career is not, except for his father's statement, "He lost his passion." Similarly, one is left to ponder if José and Niña are together at the end or, more importantly, why they did not stay together in the first place.
... But in the end these may be more my opinion than actual criticism. As a lover of both sports and Frank Capra movies, I probably would have made Bella into a combination of Cinderella Man and It's a Wonderful Life. Currently, we have many Rudys and Rockys to choose from, but (at a time the world surely needs them), very few Bellas. Here's hoping Verástegui can stay on the pro-life track as Bella's success no doubt finds him not only financial backing but some big bucks for himself come time for his next feature.