Posted April 7, 2020
By GRETA WEST
Miami Beach resident and University of Miami professor Tom Musca brings his hilarious story of an impoverished Latino family who squat in a lavish Miami mansion and assume an upper-class lifestyle after discovering the wealthy owner’s dead body to the screen in “Chateau Vato,” which he wrote and directed. The film’s premier was at the Olympia Theater on March 11 as part of the Miami International Film Festival.
Actor-comedian Paul Rodriguez stars as Gustavo Alvarez, owner of a landscaping business that is being undercut by rival Honduran gardeners. Rodriguez gained fame through his eponymous television series and has appeared in big-budget films like “Crocodile Dundee” with Paul Hogan, “Ali” with Will Smith and Clint Eastwood’s “Blood Work.”
While the expected gags appear from one of the best-known Hispanic comics in the United States, Rodriguez plays him as a man who wants to do the right thing and clearly loves his family, especially his wife Lupe.
Mexican-American actress Elpidia Carrillo plays Gustavo’s wife Lupe. She is best known in the United States for her roles in the iconic action film “Predator,” “Bread and Roses” and “Nine Lives.” Lupe is a little more willing than her husband to take over the abandoned mansion and embrace the upper-class lifestyle, even if it means entertaining the smarmy neighbor, played by Richard Haylor. But she shows her softer side when caring for the infant at the residence where she works as a housekeeper, when she is not rebuking the advances of her employer, Mr. Treater, played by Wayne LeGette.
Tomas Roldan plays Guatavo and Lupe’s son, Nando. He is a graduate of the New World School of the Arts and Rutgers University. He has appeared in classical productions such as “Sense and Sensibility” and “Faust” and even appeared in “Measure for Measure” at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. While Nando enjoys the attention of his new upper-class girlfriend, Tiffany Glickman, played by Tommi Rose, he seems more interested in cracking the password of the coveted iPhone he took from the dead owner.
All the actors in “Chateau Vato” play their roles believably. Any viewer who is a resident of South Florida will recognize the characters, whether it is a resemblance to their own lawn guy or their friend’s mother who is in the Junior League. And while the premise of the story may seem slightly incredible, the characters’ reactions add credibility to the plot.
The sensitive subject of immigration is touched upon with Gustavo and the rival gardeners. Gustavo and his crew are U.S. citizens are furious at losing their jobs to illegal aliens from Honduras. But the main character has a much more progressive train of thought. When Gustavo’s crew calls the illegals cowards, he defends them as brave men. This adds another dimension to the sometimes-monolithic depiction of Latino characters on the screen.
At the same time, this is a comedy. Things are thrown and broken and there’s a lot of screaming, but you laugh. A vision of a hardworking family stumbling on a fortune that they didn’t earn is a version of the American dream which transcends culture.
While there are plenty of belly laughs to amuse the viewer, there are several lines of suspense that add intrigue. How and who will find the family out? Will it be Mariana, played by Patricia de Leon, who “accidentally” meets Lupe in a market, and tries a little too hard to get her to join the woman’s club? Will it be Russ Huard, played by Reed Favero, the flashy realtor who Gustavo’s daughter, Aurora, played by Jenny Arzola, has convinced she knows the real estate business? And why is Huard trying so hard to track down the family’s former residence? What about the dead owner’s long-lost son, Theo, played by Jayme Glusman? Is he really as altruistic as he seems? And just what is the password for the iPhone? And who killed Horace Hancock? And where is his body buried?
There were a few technical issues where the lighting seemed to darken and sound faded in and out, which will undoubtedly be corrected before the film is set for wide distribution. And while there were moments when the pace seemed to drag, all the story lines are neatly tied up in the end.
But the cinematography is stunning. From the beauty of the manicured lawns in Miami Beach to the colorful lower-class homes in Hialeah, Miami is well captured visually. The shots done of the McArthur Causeway and over the intracoastal waterway are particularly breathtaking.
Judging by the sold-out audience’s reaction, this is a must-see film.
- Cast: Paul Rodriguez, Elpidia Carrillo, Patricia de Leon
- Director: Tom Musca
- Writer: Tom Musca
- Executive Producers: Alex Agrasanchez, Jeff Detlefs, Merilyn Marshall-Cullen, Cheryl Riess, Arturo Smith
- Producers: Tom Musca, Tim Sparks
- Co-Producer: Shane Kinsler
- Running Time: 107 minutes