Problemista (dir. Julio Torres)

By: Meghan Winebrenner

Saturday Night Live is the breeding ground for some of the greatest comedy writers and actors of the modern age. With its rigorous schedule and competitive atmosphere, castmates that can survive the arduous SNL environment emerge with an elite filmmaking tool set. Consequently, five years following his departure from the SNL writers room, Julio Torres shines as director, writer, and lead actor in his debut film: Problemista. A24 Studios placing full trust in Torres can be seen as a risk, however Torres puts his critics to shame, showcasing his brilliance, and telling a story that feels intrinsically connected to its lead. The film is also elevated by the talents of Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, Doctor Strange) whose character Elizabeth forms a unique bond with Torres’  Alejandro, and together they present a charming tale about what it’s like to be an outsider.  


Torres’ film follows Alejandro, an American immigrant from El Salvator, who is an aspiring toy designer. While awaiting his big-break with the Hasbro talent program, Alejandro has been working at a cryogenic freezing center guarding the paintings and human body of Bobby, portrayed by The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA (American Gangster). Bobby’s body was frozen following a terminal diagnosis in the hopes of waking up in the future when doctors have found a cure. When Alejandro accidentally unplugs Bobby’s frozen chamber, Alejandro loses his job, and a countdown commences until he is kicked out of the United States. Desperate for a job, a sponsor and for cash, Alejandro runs into Bobby’s wife, Elizabeth (Swinton), a dramatic, delusional, mess of a woman, who agrees to sponsor him if he can find a way to sell and keep record of Bobby’s artwork which consists exclusively of abstract egg paintings. Torres’ farcical storyline subsequently evolves into a unique buddy comedy about friendship, artwork, and the American dream. 

Problemista is an incredibly artistic and sweet film, but what elevates its storytelling is Torres’ writing. The hilarity that is weaved throughout each line of dialogue and each frame is both absurdist and clever. Elizabeth’s tirades, while absolutely insufferable, showcase Torres’ writing genius. Problemista’s elevated level of comedy has its audiences both laughing out loud and contemplating the quick-witted complexities behind each joke. Torres' Saturday Night Live writing roots are clear throughout the film.  Alejandro is also an incredibly easy protagonist to champion. His humility and creativity is delightful to watch, and the care that Torres embeds into the character makes it clear that this is a story that is close to his heart. This attention to detail is also evident in Alejandro’s gait and his hair which contribute to his adorable and innocent demeanor. Additionally, Problemista beautifully illustrates the United States immigrant experience. Alejandro’s immigration journey is told through the story plainly, but also features a variety of symbolic representations throughout. These images, consisting but not limited to hourglasses, monsters, and stairwells visually stimulate the audience, while also giving them a greater understanding of the stresses one could face when coming to the US. The hardships people go through trying to achieve their aspirations, and the effects that immigration has on family is demurely presented, and for those hoping to better understand the tribulations, Problemista is an informative and enjoyable watch. 

Target Score 7/10: Julio Torres’ debut film will leave audiences laughing out loud. Fans of creative storytelling, independent films, and intellectual comedy will find Problemista a delightful and entertaining watch.