You can trust that people are going to get all excited about how The Valet “breaks the rom-com mold” and “doesn’t use the same old rom-com tropes,” and is therefore just so much better and smarter and funnier. They need to settle down because this movie, which is pretty fun and funny, does rely on rom-com tropes (which is totally fine), even if it isn’t strictly a rom-com (which is also totally fine). That said, it does have some nuanced things to say about ethnicity, though it isn’t as great when it comes to gender, and it could definitely be shorter. Two hours? C’mon.
In the opening credits (one of my favorite scenes), we watch Antonio Flores (Eugenio Derbez) bicycle home from his job as a valet in upscale Los Angeles. He stops at a red light next to a man haggling over spending five versus six million on something. Then, as he cycles farther south, he passes low slung strip malls with fading spray painted graffiti and signs for Wilshire Bridal. He pedals on through Koreatown with sleek buildings and changing digital billboards before finally reaching his own neighborhood of Pico-Union, where he rides past the billionaire Vincent Royce (Max Greenfield) and his wife Kathryn (Betsy Brandt) who, standing in front of boarded-up buildings, announces a new development that will add hundreds of “well-paying green jobs,” which we all know is code for gentrification. Antonio, who is separated from his wife, stops to pick up his son (Joshua Vasquez) from school, before finally heading home to the apartment they share with his mother (Carmen Salinas). She, he learns, is having quite the steamy affair with their landlord, Mr. Kim (Ji Yong Lee), who doesn’t speak Spanish and neither of them speak English.
It turns out that Vincent Royce is also having a steamy affair of his own with Olivia (Samara Weaving), a willowy blonde actress with a major film about Amelia Earhart about to release. Neither of the two can afford for the news to go public so, when a paparazzo happens to snap a photo of them outside a hotel with Antonio in the frame, they hatch a plan to fake a relationship between Olivia and Antonio. He goes along with it mostly because Vincent’s lawyer (Alex Fernandez) agrees to pay him enough to cover his estranged wife’s school fees ($12,850), which he thinks will help him win her back from Benny, the big-shot real estate agent with bus bench ads she’s started dating.
You see, Antonio, with his awful mustache and awkward flat-top haircut and unstylish clothes, is the ultimate gentle guy, who takes care of family, friends, and strangers, but doesn’t expect or want much from the world. He parks hugely expensive cars, has opinions about them, but is content to ride his bike from here to there. This is a change from the usual stereotypes about men from Spanish-speaking countries. Though is it still a stereotype about the humble worker who doesn’t expect anything from the capitalist machine for which he grinds all day? Or is it supposed to be a commentary that Antonio’s values don’t align with capitalism, and that he has ethics that supersede financial gain? (I don’t have answers.) All of Antonio’s male friends and family are supportive, gossipy, and kind as well, which shouldn’t even be something I need to note but, my sweet fancypants, we all know why I do. Olivia, we soon find out, is, yes, somewhat superficial and self-centered, but also terribly lonely and lost. She quickly latches onto Antonio’s warm, welcoming, large family, where she can begin to re-engage with the sense of self she misplaced in her meteoric rise to fame, and the two of them forge an endearing, supportive, and platonic friendship. (If you guessed their lack of romance is why some people are all lathered up with excitement about how this movie isn’t cliched then you win…nothing! But you’re absolutely right!)
The movie is clearly a star vehicle for Derbez (who is also a producer), and you either like his take on the sad sack, goofy good guy or you don’t. Well, actually, my feelings kind of went back and forth, so I shouldn’t make it sound so black and white. But it’s hard not to love Carmen Salinas’ performance as his blunt talking, sex positive mother who shrugs off Antonio’s complaints and discomfort to impress upon him the importance of embracing love, sex, and romance. She is most definitely NOT the stereotype of an overbearing mother. Take for example when she reminds him that the walls are very thin. And when he is kind of disgusted that his mother is suggesting he should have sex, she responds that he’s a grown man, but to, again, keep in mind the walls are thin. She is clearly the sun around which her family orbits, and there’s a part when Antonio explicitly explains how an ordinary life like hers can be extraordinary. She also speaks exclusively in Spanish and many of the conversations happen in Spanish, with some even happening in a mix of Spanish, Korean, and English. It’s always nice when a movie doesn’t just pretend that everyone speaks English for the convenience or comfort of some portion of the viewing audience.
As I said before, it’s also nice to see Latinx people portrayed in a positive light, with a reliance on, if anything, positive stereotypes about community, family, food, and friendship. Vincent Royce is the absolute villain, not only because of his lack of guilt about cheating on his wife, but because he wants to suck the soul out of Antonio’s neighborhood and replace it with businesses that will funnel more cash into his already overflowing coffers. However, please don’t believe any critics who act like this is a new premise for a rom-com. The big, bad developer is absolutely a well-worn rom-com trope. In this case, Derbez adds to the conversation by highlighting the casual racism, microaggressions, and class differences prevalent in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States.
However, I still find it problematic that Antonio is heralded as a conquering hero by other valets and men working in a kitchen, not for his ability to be seen or break down class barriers, but, it appears, because he has managed to land a famous and beautiful actress. It appears to reinforce all the patriarchal social ideals. (And other side conversations had by the valets about women’s physical appearances does little to convince me otherwise.) Additionally, Olivia, while smart and sometimes funny, is constantly miserable about pretty much everything regarding her job. Why do thin, beautiful actresses always have to be portrayed as hating much of what they do? Is it some penance they’re supposed to pay for meeting societal expectations of beauty? Like, they’re not supposed to enjoy it? Sure, I get that her character is lonely so that she can learn that lesson from Antonio, just as he learns to be more assertive from her, but why does she need to seem to be morose about EVERYTHING. To compare, Antonio is unhappy about some things, but he appears to enjoy his job and the people he works with. Olivia is miserable when filming, miserable when getting ready for her premiere, miserable when watching the film, miserable when talking to reporters, miserable when at her office, miserable when… You get the picture. There is one scene where she seems to be excited and it only exists so that we can see how she doesn’t actually have anyone to share that excitement with. Also, yes, I understand that actresses are forced to maintain ridiculous weight standards, but how are we ever going to change that if we keep reinforcing it by making “jokes” about it in movie after movie? If I had to hear one more time how Olivia doesn’t eat or see her get served some tiny amount of food…
And also, I kept forgetting this movie took place in the present because there was so much focus on the paparazzi and absolutely no mention of social media. None. How is that possible? Finally, for a movie that is a full two-hours long, you would think they could have found a more creative way to wrap up the gentrification storyline than one step short of magic tricks. It seemed to be saying, Oh, hey all you real salt of the earth people, you’re actually fucked because the only way to stop the power and greed is through connections to power and money that you probably don’t have! Sweet message. And finally, wouldn’t it have been extra great if this movie, which is largely about a Latinx family and Latinx culture, was written by….not two white guys.
Look, I kvetch because I care. This movie is overall a pretty good watch—thanks in no small part to the scenes with Carmen Salinas, the parts with the valet guys trading chisme and arguing, and the gentle commentary on race and class—which I still think could have done better in some areas, but it’s certainly not reinventing anything. Hell, the whole thing is a remake of a French movie by the same name.
2 thoughts on “Review: THE VALET (2022) Has Comedy, Chisme, and Quite A Bit of Commentary”
Hi there, I always enjoy your excellent writing, but I particularly like this piece because I just learned a new word, for gossip of all things – thanks!😊
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Thank you so much for reading!