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Retired Mexican-American chef Martin Naranjo shares an L.A. home with his three gorgeous, but single, adult daughters. Though he long ago lost his ability to taste, Martin still lives to cook incredibly lavish dinners for his loved ones and to serve them in a family-style ritual at traditional sit-down meals. Although the women humor their father's old-fashioned ways, each of them is searching for fulfillment outside the family circle. College student Maribel is growing increasingly frustrated with the singles scene and wants a steady man; gorgeous career woman Carmen is fed up with her boyfriend and his wandering eye; meanwhile, eldest daughter Letitia, who has suppressed her own romantic longings, senses something missing in her life. Things take a turn for the romantic when Dad, a widower, meets a vivacious divorcee on the lookout for a mate and each of his daughters, in turn, finds someone. But they'll all discover that the recipe for happiness may call for some unexpected ...Written by
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You've got to wonder about a film that pitches its food as the star. Not that the dishes, prepared by the `Too Hot Tamales' Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, fall short of expectations. Tortilla Soup is rife with cooking and dinner scenes that feature both classic Mexican and Mexican fusion dishes. But nobody eats film, so the magnitude of the food's presen ce distracts from the story line. Or maybe the story line distracts from the story line.
Lying beneath it all, is a story about a family of Mexican-Americans and their abruptly changing lives. Hector Elizondo (Chicago Hope) is Martin Naranjo, a semi-retired chef and the father of three young women. Every Sunday his three daughters are required to join him for a grand meal, which he spends the day preparing. His eldest daughter Leticia, played by Elizabeth Pena, is a devout Christian and a schoolteacher. She's the daddy's girl. The middle child Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors) is a successful executive, with an eccentric style of cooking that aggravates her father. The youngest daughter Maribel (Tamara Mello, She's All That) is a fun loving high school student that longs to see the world. Soon Leticia starts receiving love letters, Carmen gets offered a job in Barcelona, and Maribel decides to run off with her new boyfriend. Nothing is as it once was. People begin to miss Sunday dinner, which aggravates Martin, whose taste is dead and health may be failing. Martin decides to fill his new free time with the courtship of the mother of a family friend. Hortensia (Raquel Welch) seeks Martin as her fourth husband.
The dining scenes are extensive, acting as segues into the major conversations in the film. The cooking scenes battle the dialogue for time on the screen. The soundtrack, most audible when food is either being prepared or being eaten, turns out to be the hidden star of Tortilla Soup. It's light Latino fare, showcasing `Si En Un Final' by Eliades Ochoa of the Buena Vista Social Club and a Spanglish version of `Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,' by Lila Downs. It's a warm fuzzy moment when the girls sing a song together during post-dinner KP duty. That's what sisterhood is all about. It's about the love, the support, and the cleaning.
Everything seems to work out for the characters, as they often do in movies. I'm not going to give anything away, but I will say that it involves both `living happily' and `forever after.' There's a twist, which the written documents sponsored by the film all boast as unpredictable, and this can be attributed to its lack of support throughout the film. The cast, despite a high level of talent, fails to perk up dialogue that teeters on the edge of cheesy. In one scene, Leticia and Carmen discuss their father's disdain for Christianity. Martin, a Catholic, feels that Christians worship Christ, rather than Christianity as a whole. Carmen mentions that Christ was a Christian, and both girls are surprised when the hairdresser reminds them that Christ was a Jew. Wouldn't the `devout' Leticia have known that?
One of the more tactfully placed cultural snippets is the persistent use of Spanglish, the Spanish/English hybrid, which Martin shuns. His demands for either English or Spanish to be spoken in his household serves the character well, reinforcing the juxtaposition of Martin's loyalty to tradition and his Americanization of the daughters. A great deal of Tortilla Soup seeks to enrich the audience with factual knowledge about Hispanic culture and religion, but most of it is presented it so conspicuously as to make it appear forced and excessive.
The film's saving grace is the relationships between the characters. While the characters as individuals are peppered with stereotyping, the entire Naranjo family and their friends blend together nicely. Through thick and thin, sisters are sisters, and offer each other unwavering support. Their father, who struggles with his own faults, seeks to find the line between helping and suffocating his children. As his family changes, so must he, and for a man seeped in tradition, change comes slowly. Martin is aided through this transition by the hand of a young girl, a daughter of a friend, whom he visits at school daily to bring a home cooked lunch. The young girl quells Martin's empty nest syndrome and also plays a roll in the `surprise' ending. And that's the best hint you'll get the whole movie.
It's difficult to say whom Tortilla Soup was written for. It's rated PG-13 for sexual content, but it leans toward PG. It's really a family movie, a daytime matinee. Maybe something to do in the afternoon before having a nice sociable dinner. Then again, the food in the film looks so good, dinner will probably be a disappointment. Directed by Maria Ripoll. 102 Min. Rated PG-13.
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