By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
When I ran across the press release for Underwater Dreams, its premise of poor New Mexican Carl Hayden High School entering an underwater robotics competition alongside university powerhouse programs like MIT and somehow matching up to them intrigued me.
First Question: What is “Underwater”?
I was surprised to find, though, that the premise is a bit of a bait and switch. While it at first tells this story, it doesn’t end there, just as the lives of these talented, underprivileged young men didn’t. In examining what happened later, Underwater Dreams becomes a record of the modern immigrant experience, and how America is squandering the very resource that made it so great in the first place.
Watching this film was a bit of a puzzling experience, especially around the halfway point when the ostensible David and Goliath story of the robotics competition had reached its conclusion. Once I realized the real subject of the film, though, I was impressed by what it accomplished. It’s classic “Show, Don’t Tell”- instead of telling us about the challenges talented young illegal immigrants who’ve grown up in the U.S. face integrating in and contributing to society, they show them in the form of a group of promising young men and women effectively barred from doing so.
Don’t let this focus on message undercut the inspirational event that underlies it, though. The first half of the film, in which we get to know these charismatic kids and their motivated instructors, is a very engaging story of overcoming long odds, made all the more impressive by how it evades the typical David and Goliath Hollywood structure and shows the perspective of the presumed favorite MIT team, a great group of folks in its own right. The scene where the two teams reunite years later is the emotional high point of the film.
Underwater Dreams is also very sharply shot and ably directed, especially its Americana-rich opening credits set to Colby Caillat’s catchy “Brighter Than the Sun”. I also really dig the double connotation of the title in retrospect.
The usually great Michael Peña serves as narrator, but he doesn’t sound all that into the, you know, narrating part. Underwater Dreams also suffers from pacing issues, at times so frantically edited that it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening in the competition and in others lingering on talking heads delivering indisputably nice, but repetitive sentiments.
Underwater Dreams spins a tale of unlikely triumph into an examination of how America’s current attitude towards immigrants is wasting some of the most driven and talented people living within its borders.
Take a Drink: for PVC pipe
Take a Drink: for tampons
Take a Drink: whenever Christian pulls off something awesome
Take a Drink: whenever Lorenzo laughs
Take a Drink: for immigration and social subtexts
Do a Shot: for catastrophic machine failure
Do a Shot: for Hooters