“El Cuartito” creates the idea that it is a satirical comedy on how the Trump administration’s immigration policies affected residents in Puerto Rico. The film is just a goofy mishmash of ridiculous events with no real edge. Even the most patient viewers will be irritated with at least two of the film’s five primary characters.
“El Cuartito” (which translates to “The Little Room” in English) is directed by Marcos Carnevale (who co-wrote the script with Javier De Nevares). It takes place nearly entirely in San Juan Airport in Puerto Rico. The sequences in the film that do not occur in Puerto Rico are primarily flashbacks to what happened to each of the five significant protagonists before they arrived at the airport on this fateful day. Each of these backstories explains why each of these five personalities was delayed at the airport.
“El Cuartito” takes place somewhere during Donald Trump’s presidency of the United States, when he famously made the following September 2017 comment regarding Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of the island: “We are on an island surrounded by sea. “A lot of water.” At the beginning and end of “El Cuartito,” a tape of Trump saying these remarks at a press conference is played. In the film, numerous of the characters discuss Trump.
However, if viewers expect to see or hear anything politically or socially funny in “El Cuartito,” they will be disappointed because the film is primarily made up of irrational, combative, and mentally unbalanced individuals for lengthy parts of the film. And the methods in which some difficulties are addressed in the tale are simply cringe-worthy and disrespectful to the audience’s intelligence.
For most “El Cuartito,” five strangers are crammed inside a prisoner room at San Juan Airport, formally known as Luis Muoz Marn International Airport. Throughout the narrative, these trapped airplane passengers quarrel with one another, are concerned about what immigration officials would do to them, and finally scheme an escape when they see an air vent in the room that may be a route out of the building.
These five strangers are:
Juan Miguel “Toti” Cuervo (played by Mario de la Rosa), a bankrupt has-been arrogant pop/rock singer from Madrid, Spain, is anxious to make a return. Toti is in town for a good Thanksgiving dinner concert for a wealthy private customer. On the other hand, Toti has been delayed at the airport because his fidgety manager Juan David León (played by Hector Escudero Lobe), failed to obtain a work visa for Toti and instead received a tourist visa for him.
Lina Fernández de Montepieller (played by Claribel Medina), a high-maintenance and rich snob who lives in Paris, is on various sorts of medicine. Lina is in San Juan to meet her sister and go on a Prince of the Ocean cruise. Lina was held when, while waiting in line for X-ray clearance, she unintentionally lost many of her medicines from their bottles, raising airport concerns about the sorts of drugs she was carrying. To ensure that the tablets are not unlawful, airport security must conduct toxicological testing on them.
Mariel (played by Isel Rodriguez), a heartbroken lady, is originally from Puerto Rico but has spent 15 years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Mariel has been alienated from her mother for reasons disclosed in the film, and she hopes to reconnect with her family in Puerto Rico. Mariel has been held because her passport has expired.
Jesus Reyes (Ianis Guerrero), a Mexican native, has a secret purpose for wanting to visit Puerto Rico. He was apprehended after airport officials discovered he was using a forged passport. Luis is featured early in the film, before he gets arrested at the airport, secretly chatting on the phone and inquiring whether “the product is alright.” Jesus is speaking in code.
Santos Domingo (Fausto Mata) is a colorful preacher from the Dominican Republic’s city of Santo Domingo. Santos wishes to be like Joel Osteen (a megachurch preacher with his T.V. program), and he claims to have psychic abilities given to him directly by God. Santos is being held because he has previously attempted to enter Puerto Rico unlawfully, and this is the third time he has been apprehended.
When Jesus enters the room, Lina (the story’s loudest and most annoying character) instantly accuses him of being a terrorist. Why? He appears to her to be a terrorist. Jesus has been slandered. He informs Lina that he is Mexican and that Mexicans do not support extreme Muslim terrorism.
Lina claims that Mexicans may be drug lords, which Jesus agrees with, but he claims that drug lords are not the same as terrorists. “Mexicans don’t blow people up!” Lina is yelled at harshly by Jesus. On the other hand, Lina is convinced that he is a criminal, even though she knows nothing about him.
Lina and Jesus engage in some back-and-forth bickering, during which Lina reveals herself to be a racist and xenophobe. She’s also not very bright since she is constantly mistaking Puerto Rico for Costa Rica. It’s meant to be an ongoing gag in the film. Lina also bursts into tears and throws tantrums, believing this would help her get out of the prisoner room sooner. Her diva antics aren’t working.
The prisoner area, which resembles a set for a movie or a stage play, has three objects hanging on the wall: a picture portrait of Trump, sandwiched between the U.S. flag and the Puerto Rican flag. At different points throughout the film, the inmates approach the picture of Trump and say things to and about him—primarily harmless and forgettable remarks regarding the Trump administration’s immigration policy changes. Lina appears to be a Trump supporter, but Jesus most certainly is not.
Meanwhile, Mariel is a lover of Toti’s music, so she acts star-struck around him. He’s flattered, and he feels attracted to her, but he’s not sure what Mariel’s story is (she’s not wearing a wedding band), and he’s not sure how far they should go with their flirting. Toti is still well-known enough that everyone who knows who he is is aware that he is a single man looking for love. The film finally reveals Mariel’s dating status.
Because Mariel acts like a gushing adolescent girl around Toti, their would-be romance is rather dull and a touch cheesy. Mariel, for example, while they’re locked up together, sings lines from Toti’s hit songs to him. He also sings to her at one point. Try not to vomit.
Santos is not brought into the prisoner’s room until about halfway through the film. His preaching is, naturally, exaggerated. He’s also excellent at determining personal information about his fellow inmates based on how they appear and act. Santos and Lina are both highly self-conscious, which helps explain a subplot between them at the end of the film. However, this subplot is hurried into the picture and appears to appear out of nowhere.
Outside the airport, among all the bickering, fussing, and ego-stroking in the room, there is some potential drama waiting for these prisoners. When they arrived at the airport, it was widely reported that a storm was on its way to Puerto Rico. This possible tragedy is likewise addressed in an unsatisfactory manner in the film.
“El Cuartito” contains moments that can make you laugh; thus, it succeeds as a comedy in small ways. However, the film fails to consistently provide thoughtful, belly-achingly funny sequences because the gags frequently fall flat. If you’re making a film about individuals who are trapped in a room most of the time, the characters must appear natural, relatable, and developed. Unfortunately, the primary characters in “El Cuartito” are little more than caricatures behaving predictably. And the revelations regarding their personal life are not that unexpected. The actors give these clichés little depth.
The latter part of the film truly goes off the rails with a stupid escape plan in which these inmates don’t realize they’ll only cause more trouble for themselves if they escape. “El Cuartito” contains several comedic scenes that are reminiscent of a poor telenovela. There is some mockery of Trump (including a sequence in which his framed photo falls off the wall and the glass fractures), but the anti-Trump gags appear obsolete now that he is no longer president of the United States.
And that’s not the only thing that’s out of date with the film. It’s as if “El Cuartito” is attempting to be an adult Hispanic version of John Hughes’ 1985 comedy “The Breakfast Club,” which was about five white adolescents (three males and two females) locked in a classroom on a weekend morning due to high school detention. “El Cuartito” follows the concept of “The Breakfast Club,” with each character ultimately sharing a personal sob story for everyone in the group to feel more sensitive to one another. The main difference is that “The Breakfast Club” is a genuinely humorous classic, whereas “El Cuartito” is a lightweight, poorly written comedy that most viewers would forget about after seeing it.
On July 16, 2021, Wiesner Distribution will distribute “El Cuartito” in select U.S. theaters. On March 25, 2021, the film was released in Puerto Rico. The film will be released on HBO on September 17, 2021.