Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: Movie Review

A sweet tale of growing up gay in Texas.

With a title sure to catch people’s eyes, filmmaker Aitch Alberto says that truly knowing the secrets of the universe is “understanding that love comes in many different forms and in unexpected places.” And indeed, this is a movie for people who have felt out of place in their surroundings, trying to understand who they are and how they’re different. It’s a queer coming-of-age drama celebrating those differences.   2022

Directed by: Aitch Alberto

Screenplay by: Aitch Alberto

Starring: Max Pelayo, Reese Gonzales

Set in El Paso, Texas in 1987, Aristotle (Max Pelayo), Ari to friends and family, and Dante (Reese Gonzales) are two Mexican-American teenagers. Aristotle has a very repressed family, a father who barely speaks, a mother who barely fills in the gaps and a brother in jail for reasons kept secret; Ari keeps his room clean and bare – no posters on the wall, no stuff anywhere. A teenager who has never felt at home anywhere.

To contrast Ari, Dante comes from an English professor (hence his name) and a mother who fills in the gaps with joy. Dante’s room is stuffed full with clutter; Ari doesn’t even feel comfortable sitting on his bed. The two met and spend most of their time at the community pool. Ari has always been a loner as he decided early on in life to avoid toxic masculinity and boys who just want to fight and talk about girls.

The first half of the movie is like a leisurely country drive. A drama-free tale of two boys getting to know each other, temporarily growing up apart and discovering first jobs and first kisses on their own. The second half of the movie takes some dark turns as the characters are thrust into some difficult situations and forced to make uncomfortable decisions about who they are. It definitely feels like two separate movies with the first half taking its sweet time to develop anything and the second half throwing in a lot more ‘life sucks’ moments for the characters. It could be a much more powerful movie if the two acts felt better connected.

The re-creation of 1987 rural Texas is done simply but lovely. There’s a lot of sun-soaked cinematography and does capture some every-day happiness. The Reagan-era politics don’t come through very clearly in the screenplay, but we all know what Ari and Dante’s classmates are like so it doesn’t necessarily need any direct references.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a sweet tale of growing up gay. The time period is very nicely captured. The film is sure to be enjoyed by all who like the genre.