‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe’ Review: A Sweet however Clumsy Queer Teen Love Story

It takes Aristotle (Max Pelayo) nearly everything of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe to precise how he actually feels. For many of the 90-plus-minute run time, he hems and haws, as frightened of being seen as he’s of going ignored. When he lastly reveals himself, it comes as a hard-won second of catharsis, a cool rain piercing by means of after days of unsettling warmth.

It additionally makes for an odd kind of irony. Because whereas Aristotle may want to maintain himself bottled up, Aristotle and Dante, from its opening moments, is a movie so anxious to be understood that it may well’t appear to cease getting in its personal manner. It tells when it may present, shouts when it may whisper, underlines its personal themes in blunt traces of dialogue — and in its rush to elucidate itself, Aristotle and Dante denies us an excessive amount of of the joys of attending to unlock its candy pleasures for ourselves.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

The Bottom Line

An earnest love story that may’t assist getting in its personal manner.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Discovery)
Cast: Max Pelayo, Reese Gonzales, Eugenio Derbez, Eva Longoria, Veronica Falcón, Kevin Alejandro
Director-screenwriter: Aitch Alberto

96 minutes

Based on the acclaimed YA bestseller by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the drama facilities on two Mexican American youngsters in late-’80s El Paso. Aristotle is a working-class loner simmering with a quiet rage and resentment he himself doesn’t completely perceive, which we study as a result of he principally describes himself as such within the overlong opening voiceover.

Bored one stifling summer time day, he goes for a dip in the neighborhood pool and surfaces to seek out newcomer Dante (Reese Gonzalez) peering down at him, trying positively angelic within the daylight. Where Ari is angst and self-doubt, Dante, the son of a comparatively well-to-do tutorial couple (Kevin Alejandro and Eva Longoria), is all sweetness and lightweight — a veritable manic pixie dream boy, right down to his cutesy behavior of going barefoot at any time when attainable.

The bond they type is intense and speedy. Perhaps an excessive amount of so, even for a story constructed on an on the spot connection: Writer-director Aitch Alberto shoves them collectively so insistently that we’re barely allowed to get to know them as people first, or to savor the heady course of by which curiosity turns into fondness turns into one thing like profound, lasting love. In the whirlwind, her younger leads — each relative newcomers — battle to seek out their footing. Pelayo is a champion brooder, however is let down by a script brief on nuance and depth. And Gonzales struggles within the first half of the movie to assemble a believable human being out of a Natalie-Portman-in-GardenState-sized assortment of aggressively lovely quirks.

In equity, Aristotle and Dante has loads of plot to cowl. Its narrative stretches over a complete 12 months, staying with Aristotle as Dante strikes away on the finish of the summer time of ’87 to maneuver again in the summertime of ’88. In the interim, Dante’s presence is decreased to letters to Aristotle that we hear in voiceovers, chronicling a fraught and generally painfully lonely journey of self-discovery. Meanwhile, Aristotle has lots on his thoughts apart from his distant greatest pal. We watch as he will get a job, meets a lady, wonders darkly what actually occurred to the incarcerated brother that his mother and father (Eugenio Derbez and Veronica Falcón) refuse to speak about in any respect.

These developments of their lives really feel halfhearted, maybe as a result of Aristotle and Dante appears extra focused on who these persons are collectively than who they may be aside. Subplots about Dante’s ambivalence towards his personal Mexican identification or Aristotle’s contempt towards his (seemingly pleasant) classmates are developed so haphazardly I can solely assume they’re relics from the supply materials that bought hacked to bits in translation.

But Aristotle and Dante lastly will get again on monitor with Dante’s return halfway by means of. Gonzales’ efficiency grows sturdier as soon as he’s given extra emotional heft to play, and his chemistry with Pelayo good points intriguing new layers because the connection between them begins to evolve in ways in which neither (however particularly the repressed Aristotle) is ready to confront.

For all its fumbles, I discovered Aristotle and Dante to encourage extra indulgence than annoyance. For one factor, it’s plainly pretty to have a look at. Cinematographer Akis Konstantakopoulos has a knack for capturing the confident majesty of Texas’ austere deserts and limitless skies. The loveliness of the surroundings makes for a extra convincing reflection of the contentment the pair discover in each other than the steadily clunky dialogue does. In one of many image’s most putting scenes, the chums dance giddily in a sudden downpour as raindrops glitter like diamonds on their automotive windshield.

It’s a second of pure, untroubled pleasure in two lives thirsty for extra of them. Reagan-era Texas serves because the fraught backdrop for the characters’ exploration of their sexualities, as emphasised by means of mentions of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and background news reviews in regards to the AIDS disaster, and the boys don’t escape unscathed. But Aristotle and Dante treats their concern and anger and fear with compassion, and so do a shocking variety of the supporting characters. “I can’t stand watching the loneliness inside you,” Aristotle hears from somebody he’d by no means anticipated to speak in confidence to, and on listening to his ache spoken out loud, he appears to be like as if he’s been relieved of a burden he didn’t understand he was carrying.

Indeed, Aristotle and Dante‘s faults seem to stem, in large part, from a surplus of that same tenderness. That renders its flaws easy to forgive, or at least easy to want to forgive: If it jumps too eagerly to explain itself, it’s with the protectiveness of a guardian determined to protect her baby from a judgmental or unforgiving world. But the protect that protects is similar protect that obscures. Aristotle and Dante has glimmers of magnificence, and its story accommodates the potential for a lot extra. If solely it had been allowed the area to actually shine.

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