Written and Directed by: Darnell Martin
Starring: Lauren VÃ©lez, Jon Seda, Jesse Borrego, Griffin Dunne, Lisa Vidal
Released by: Sony Pictures
My Advice: Rent It
Lisette’s (VÃ©lez) life is about being there for other people. She keeps reassuring the fragile Latino ego of her husband Chino (Seda) while keeping the neighborhood tramp Magdalena (Vidal) from “inflating” Chino’s ego. She keeps her rowdy kids from killing each other and away from the temptations of the street. She keeps giving support to her “sister” Alexis (Borrego) and her decision to transition to a female. But Lisette has practically nothing for herself.
So when Chino gets himself locked up from stealing a stereo, Lisette has to rely on herself. With a bit of luck and gumption, she gets a job as the personal assistant of the music executive Stephen Price (Dunne). She finds that she’s got talent and enjoying creating a successful life for herself. But does this change mean that she has to abandon the husband and family she loves to live her own life?
Writer/director Darnell Martin tries to do something you don’t usually see in romantic comedy: she tries to make it more real. Most of the time rom-coms are flights of fantasy with unusually pretty people with unusually pretty lives. In contrast, Lisette and Chino have to deal with their oldest son getting involved with a juvenile drug gang, Lisette dealing with food stamps while Chino is in jail, and Alexis dealing with “her” transsexual nature and her parents’ non-acceptance of that. These are also treated with a respect and not for exploitative entertainment.
The problem is that these two styles don’t mesh. This should have been either a Latin flavored romantic comedy or an urban family drama, not both at the same time. Now you can have elements of one compliment the other, but Martin should have made an decision about what the dominant theme was to be.
This lack of blending is due more to the lack of experience of Martin, because there are some nice touches in the film such as portraying the use of candles and SanterÃa rituals in a non-exploitative way. Usually SanterÃa is shown as another version of voodoo with evil priests and black magic. Here, it’s just a way to pray. And subplots don’t necessarily resolve themselves happily, which is not the usual resolution for a supposed romantic comedy.
There are no special features on this disc and that is a shame. I Like It Like That has the distinction of being the first movie from a major studio to be written and directed by an African-American woman. I would love to have a commentary or a featurette discussing how this came about or what it was like dealing with the lily-white Hollywood establishment. Still, there is definitely potential in this enjoyable if uneven movie.