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Felicity Warner / HCM
Culture > Entertainment

“Problemista” is Already My Favorite Film of 2024

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Pitt chapter.

As an avid moviegoer, I’ve become deeply acquainted with the Problemista trailer over the past few months. Admittedly, I had no plans to venture to the theater to see it. A24 comedies, especially those brandishing the same level of absurdism Problemista does, have always been hit-or-miss for me. Some, like 2022’s Everything Everywhere All At Once, have instantly jumped into my favorites; while others, like Dream Scenario from last year, have fallen flat. While the Problemista trailer piqued my interest, it failed to make an immediate impression. Nevertheless, driven by a spontaneous desire to visit the cinema, I bought a ticket for Problemista – a decision for which I am profoundly grateful.

Former SNL writer Julio Torres’ feature film debut (writing, directing, and starring) is a premise that initially seems difficult to connect with. Alejandro Martinez, an immigrant from El Salvador, relocates to New York City with one goal: to become a toy designer for Hasbro. He has great ideas, like a Barbie doll with her fingers crossed behind her back to “add tension and intrigue to any Dreamhouse.” However, he is rejected from a job at the toy company, fired from his work as an archivist at a cryogenics company (one that, of course, exclusively offers their services to terminally ill artists), and is left with only one month to find a sponsor for his work visa before he can reapply for the position.

Enter Elizabeth Asencio, the cryogenically frozen artist whom Alejandro served as an archivist. She offers Alejandro the role of her assistant in her mission to find all her husband’s paintings, which depict eggs in various locations, with the goal of organizing a gallery exhibit to finance his ongoing treatment. If everything goes according to plan, she promises him a permanent position and visa sponsorship. Simple enough, right? Not so fast.

Elizabeth is a disaster. Played by the brilliant Tilda Swinton, she is the Karen to end all Karens, fighting with every service employee she comes in contact with, accusing everyone of yelling at her and repeatedly making Alejandro use Filemaker Pro (“the Cadillac of archival software”) to curate a database of her husband’s paintings. Dealing with her is like trying to tame a lion, but Alejandro has no choice but to endure it – his life in the United States and his future as a toy designer depend on it.

Problemista is a spectacular film. It’s genuinely hilarious. Both times I watched it in theaters the audience around me laughed from start to end (I was laughing right along with them)! The dynamic between Alejandro and Elizabeth is wonderful and made better by the exceptional performances of both actors. Swinton, as usual, is great, but I was most impressed by Torres’ performance. Everything, from how he walks to how he speaks is pitch-perfect and incredibly funny. After leaving the theater, I began combing through his written SNL sketches just to experience more of his humor.

But beneath the surrealism and comedy of Problemista is a thought-provoking, complex thesis. The true thread running through the film isn’t Alejandro’s crazy boss but rather his desperation to remain in the United States and have his visa sponsored. In the immigration office, unsuccessful visa applicants simply disappear on the spot. The maze of attempting to get money to apply for the visa is depicted through a series of never-ending rooms that Alejandro tries to escape. However, each time he successfully exits one room, he finds himself right back at the beginning. His mother, still in El Salvador, is eager to help her son keep his visa despite her limited resources. Her sending him $40, after we see his bank account deep in the red, strikes a tragically comedic note.

Even Alejandro’s relationship with Elizabeth develops beautifully throughout the movie. What begins as a strange, skewed boss-employee dynamic, with Elizabeth barking orders and Alejandro desperate to please, somehow ends as an almost friendship. Elizabeth teaches Alejandro not to let the world walk all over him, and he teaches her not to be so…well…crazy. The former is certainly more successful than the latter, but the development is still poignant. Problemista has been one of my biggest film surprises in the past few years. Going in, my expectations were unclear, but they were decidedly surpassed, making it my favorite film of the year so far. I urge everyone to experience this gem in theaters (truly, it’s a must-see with an audience), and I can’t wait to see Julio Torres’s next creation.

Sienna is a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. When it comes to writing, she likes to tackle topics like movies, television, music, celebrities, and any other pop culture goings-on. Sienna is a biological sciences and sociology double major at Pitt with a goal of attaining a certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. In addition to being a writer at Her Campus, Sienna is in the Frederick Honors College and is a member of Women in Healthcare, Pitt Democrats, and Bookmarked. After her undergraduate education, Sienna hopes to go to medical school and become a cardiothoracic surgeon. When she's not reading or studying, Sienna loves crossing films off her watchlist, reading new books, and trying a latte from every coffee shop in Oakland.