It’s hard to explore new territory in the well-represented “coming-of-age” film genre, short of, you know, actually filming a boy’s journey to manhood over the course of 12 years. (Oh wait, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood just did that.) Though there’s no shortage of films that grant a glimpse of bullet points in a character’s difficult trek down the well-worn and ever-winding path from adolescence to adulthood, far fewer flicks acknowledge the subtle-but-significant pubescent transformation that can occur in a matter of just a few days. Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke’s Spanish-language Club Sandwich expertly encapsulates a boy’s first steps into impending manhood and the difficult impact the process incurs on his mother—all over the course of a short vacation.
Single mother Paloma (Maria Ranee Prudencio) and her son Hector (Lucio Gimenez Cacho) are taking advantage of a (mostly) empty resort’s offseason pricing. Between poolside naps and borderline creepy mother-son interactions early on (e.g. Paloma gleefully popping Hector’s back pimples poolside), the roles of needy only child and his mother who’s desperate to remain young and important in the eyes of her tween vacation companion are plainly drawn. The plot crawls with pacing reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere until the integration of outgoing 16-year-old Jazmin throws the familial relationship (and Hector’s hormones) into sheer chaos.
Billed as a comedy, Club Sandwich is more of a nostalgic, emotionally wrought piece that just so happens to be basked in sunshine and swimsuits, while occasionally doling out quips to help smooth over rocky terrain. As Paloma states in her initial refusal of the titular edible, a club sandwich has too much bread to be healthy. The problematic center slice could very well embody the wedge Jazmin’s presence drives between mother and son, the obstacle an overbearing mother poses between young love interests in her futile effort to delay her boy’s inevitable indoctrination into manhood, the unfamiliar area resting between pre- and post-pubescence that’s wracked with pungent new body odors and sprouting facial follicles, the onset of masturbatory experimentation, and a need to cling to the simplicity of childhood. Or maybe it’s just referring to a sandwich.
Club Sandwich screens at the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival for the final time Tuesday, October 7, 7 p.m. at the Times Cinema.