What do you think of when you hear the term "DREAMer?"
Okay, sure. You might think I'm talking about someone who has dreams.
A “Dreamer” (often also spelled “DREAMer”) refers to an immigrant youth who qualifies for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. In writer/director Alan Barr's engaging and meaningful drama Accidental Expat, a bright young Latino DREAMer must battle the demons of a deportation to Mexico and starting a new life in a country he only knew as an infant.
That DREAMer, 21-year-old Raymond (Edgar de Santiago), has been raised in Houston, Texas since infancy yet finds himself deported to Mexico and forced to live in the home of his birth father, Miguel (Enrique Arreola), a man who hasn't seen him in years and who doesn't appear particularly thrilled to be seeing him now. While Raymond immediately applies for a tourist visa application, that's not a particularly quick process even for those who have been thrust into homelands they've never really known.
With intelligence and compassion, Barr has crafted a story that goes beyond the usual Americanized immigration story that looks at ICE raids or America's often prison-like detention centers and examines life for a DREAMer once deportation has actually occurred.
Edgar de Santiago gives a charismatic, richly human performance as Raymond, whose efforts to adapt to life in Mexico at first are stumbling and jarringly uncomfortable as he attempts to adjust to life with his authoritarian father who harbors some ill will for both having lost his son and being forced to now act like the father he's never been. De Santiago captures the rather horrid awkwardness of existing in a place many Americans would assume would feel like home yet most certainly doesn't. Finding work at an American call center for Foodavor, Raymond at least begins to find human connection, from a friend named Hector (Axel Alcantara) to potential love interest Monica (Fatima Favela).
If you've ever complained about a foreign call center, these scenes offer a glimpse into the "other side" - the privilege and entitlement experienced by those on the other side of the line who are often fighting for their very survival.
In addition to de Santiago's wonderful performance, Ariel Award-winning actor Enrique Arreola is remarkable as Miguel while both Favela and Alcantara shine throughout. Lensing by Eduardo Flores never lets us forget the deep human impact of this story while original music by Sebastian Bell and Axel Ricco weaves a tapestry of emotions.
Accidential Expat captured the Best International Feature prize at the South Texas International Film Festival and should continue finding success on the indie fest circuit. An indie distribution should most definitely follow.
With a strong ensemble cast and Barr's excellent storytelling, Accidental Expat is a meaningful family drama telling a story that few of us really know and yet absolutely should know.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic