Bread and Roses

So few films today are willing to take a stand on an issue and use the film to promote its opinion. Aside from Traffic, people probably cannot name another. Which is why Bread and Roses is so good, and also why it is not so good. This is the latest film for Ken Loach (My Name is Joe, Land and Freedom), a director who is not afraid to use films as messages for social change. Bread and Roses is a fictional account of the 1999 janitor's strike in Los Angeles. The janitors wanted health care, better wages, and the ability to live decently. Loach and writer Paul Laverty (My Name is Joe, Carla's Song) craft a passionate, but simplistic and straightforward story.

Everything is seen through the eyes of Maya (Pilar Padilla, Nostalgic Land, Aztlan), a recent Mexican illegal immigrant. After a horrifying experience with coyotes (smugglers), she gets a janitorial job working with her sister Rosa (Elpidia Carrillo, Salvador, The Other Conquest) in a Los Angeles highrise. Their boss Perez (George Lopez, Fatal Instinct, Tortilla Heaven) is demonic. He constantly berates the janitors. Maya is new to all of this, so she is most open to the ideas of Sam (Adrien Brody, Summer of Sam, Liberty Heights). Sam works for Justice for Janitors, and wants to help the janitors form a union. Forming a union is not easy, and leads to all sorts of trouble for Maya, Rosa, and the other janitors.

Bread and Roses spends much of its time setting up the strike, and little time actually focusing on the strike. Loach presents a one-sided view of events, the pro-union side. It is his prerogative to do so, since it is his movie. The reasons he gives for unionization are clear and easy to understand. However, his arguments for unionization never fully ring past that of decency, since there is no dialogue in this movie. Perez is the main representation of what is wrong with no unions, and his character is so far out there that Lopez's performance loses some of his power. It is still a fantastic performance for Lopez, a comedian. This is the polar opposite of how he usually is. He is menacing and his belittlement inspires real fear.

Loach also throws in many extra issues in to Bread and Roses, diluting his central story. An undeveloped plot involving Sam and his coworker hangs unresolved. Another 'development' concerning Rosa seems there only to provide Carrillo a scene to act. Good acting by Brody and Padilla loses out to decent to bad acting by the other janitors. But for all that happens, Sam still seems opportunistic and Maya naive. Emotional moments in Bread and Roses ring surprisingly hollow, and the outcome, though good, has no real emotion.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 50 minutes, English and Spanish with English and Spanish subtitles, Rated R for strong language and brief nudity.

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