Two Languages, One Love: Catalina Aguilar Mastretta On Her Bilingual Rom-Com Everybody Loves Somebody

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Upon the return of a boyfriend from her younger years, Clara (Karla Souza), who has an intimate relationship with her family because of their shared culture and language, is thrown into emotional disarray.

In an attempt to avoid reliving her past mistakes, she explores a romantic connection with an Australian man, who represents stability but whose background is far removed from that of her Mexican upbringing.

Exploiting this love triangle for all its humor and inevitable heartbreak, Catalina Aguilar Mastretta’s Everybody Loves Somebody transcends geographical and ethnic borders and depicts the woes of love with clever bilingual dialogue. Representations of the American bicultural experience are few, and rarely as organically embedded into an story that doesn’t denote the difference between Mexicans and gringos, but instead capitalizes on that which is universally understood as comedy and tragedy.

Aguilar Mastretta’s previous film, Las Horas Contigo, (The Hours with You) was set entirely in Mexico and revolved around three generations of women co-existing because of their blood bonds. She followed that by writing the screenplay for the L.A.-set indie Echo Park, which moved her narrative universe into the U.S., making her role as writer-director on  a project like Everybody Loves Somebody a seamless fit. Her duality as a Mexican-born artist who has lived on this side of the border for years is harmoniously channeled into her approach to storytelling.

MovieMaker spoke with Aguilar Mastretta just before the world premiere of the film at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January.

Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Las Horas Contigo (The Hours With You), your debut feature, was a subtle ensemble piece in Spanish, focused on the relationship between women in a particular family. Did your transition into a more commercial romantic comedy, Everybody Loves Somebody, feel like a natural progression for you?

Catalina Aguilar Mastretta (CAM): To me they are very similar movies. I know on their face they might feel different because Las Horas Contigo was slower and smaller, so it does feel like a different kind of movie, but to me they are both about family and I approached them in a very similar way. Whatever humor that Las Horas has came about the same way that the humor did in this movie, it’s just that the situation is a little lighter and built with different thematic elements. It was just about keeping the characters honest and moving through whatever emotion they were feeling as close to reality as possible, but with a hint of fantasy. That also happens in Las Horas, even though it’s a more grounded, dramatic film. Everything is a little better than it might be in reality, even when dealing with difficult subjects.

MM: As a writer-director, the stories you tell originate from within you. They don’t unfold as if you were directing another person’s screenplay. In that sense, what’s your initial approach when tackling a new project? Are there specific themes that are recur in your work?

CAM: I’ve been talking about this a lot because I wrote a novel that got published last month. I think it all comes back to human relationships and the mystery of them and how and why we love the people that we love, and not necessarily romantically. Las Horas is about this mother-daughter relationship. Each person is the important in the other’s lives, but they wouldn’t get along if the weren’t related. They wouldn’t find each other in the world. They have nothing in common, but they are the love in each other’s lives. Here, it’s the exact opposite. It’s about how you find a stranger in the world that becomes your family, how that works and how that changes—the different ways in which we relate to one another and fall in love with one another, which are very mysterious. That’s why there are so many stories about this subject matter. When I sit down to think about a story it always starts with a relationship, and then maybe the setting follows. With this one that was an interesting thing because the original script was an old story that happened between Los Angeles and Ojai. The parents weren’t Mexican. Then my producer Francisco González Compeán asked me if I had a [script for a] romantic comedy because romantic comedies were getting made in Mexico, and I said, “I have this one, let me just change the family’s last name.” It became this weird commentary on the “Mexican-American experience”—I think the commentary is that there is none. It wasn’t written to be about that. The movie stayed not about that. Even though we went through some rewrites once we location-scouted and once we got the cast, the specificities of it came about that way. Why I did end up liking that it deals with the subject of being bilingual and bicultural is that it’s not about it all. It’s about people’s feelings and that’s just the setting that they happen to be in.

MM: Since you have written both novels and screenplays, what’s the main difference between the two from a writer’s point of view?

CAM: In a way, it’s not that different. The only difference is that you are writing it for someone else. Screenplays are always written for someone else because you are thinking about a producer, an actor and about something that will become something else. Whereas in a novel, you are writing more for yourself or for some imaginary reader, but it’s the final product, it’s not a means to an end. But when you are actually writing it, they are very similar. It’s more about getting into the minds of the characters and letting them figure your story out.

MM: How much and how early in the development of a film do you start thinking about the cast that will bring it to life and the setting of the narrative?

CAM: It depends on the project. For Las Horas it was very specific that I was going to shoot it in my grandmother’s house. I had very specific people in my life that I thought about when I was writing the characters, and then the casting came about in a completely different way. Here, we did rewrites specifically for the actors, even though the essence of the characters didn’t change that much. We knew we had Karla and we cast this Australian guy as Asher, and there were just specific things about how they talked that got rewritten, and then that becomes part of the character.

MM: In Everybody Loves Somebody, Clara, the protagonist, has a fulfilling professional life, but we see her struggle to make decisions in her personal life. Unfortunately, there is still this erroneous idea that women, for some reason, have to choose one or the other. How did you tackle those stereotypical notions in the film?

CAM: It’s more about a certain age than the issue of “Can we women have it?” I don’t think that’s something that my generation has consciously in our minds, but it is a reality that you come up against when you turn a certain age. It’s the idea of people growing up around you, like your siblings, getting married or your friends from childhood having children. It’s impossible to not start feeling your age and making certain decisions, in your 30s, that feel definitive in some way. Whether you choose someone or not—and they may not even be the person you spend your life with—people around are choosing. The biological clock in terms of women and children is a very specific thing, too. What I like about this movie is that it’s not about that. Rom-coms in the last 10 to 15 years have been about that and this is what’s being discussed: “You are getting old!,” or, “When are you going to give me grandchildren?” Not that that doesn’t happen in real life. I absolutely have had those conversations with my mother. But life isn’t necessarily about that. That’s just in the back of my mind. I have a life and I go about things and my girlfriends are the same way. You end up having a career because you do—because you went to school and that’s what we do, and whether or not we are thriving in it or succeeding in love or at both at the same time, it’s just life. That’s what I wanted to put into this movie—nothing that felt specific to the idea of, “You are 30-something, figure yourself out!” It’s more about, “This is happening. Your ex-boyfriend is coming back.” Everybody has that emblematic first love and knows what that meant to you. It’s more about that. It may happen right now, or it may happen 10 years from now.

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