Home / Entertainment / “Keep loving, El Paso”: Film adaptation of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s young adult novel stuns audiences following public release

“Keep loving, El Paso”: Film adaptation of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s young adult novel stuns audiences following public release

One year, two months and 13 days after its premiere at the 47th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the film adaptation of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” began streaming to audiences on November 14.

The film follows Aristotle Mendoza (Max Pelayo), also known as Ari, a 15-year-old Mexican-American growing up in El Paso, Texas. In the summer of 1987, Ari meets Dante Quintana (Reese Gonzales), another Mexican-American teenager living in El Paso. Dante is the complete opposite of Ari: Creative, outgoing and sensitive, with a love for all the wonders life has to offer and a deep hatred for shoes.

Somehow, much to Ari’s surprise, the two become fast friends, spending their entire summer together. That is, until Dante and his family move to Chicago for a year, and Ari finds himself unable to return to his former lonely existence. Instead, he attempts to see the world through Dante’s eyes, even if it means struggling to navigate his newfound outlook on family, friendship, life and love.
Written and directed by Aitch Alberto, “Aristotle and Dante” is, in my opinion, one of the best page-to-screen adaptations of recent years.

The casting is impeccable. Fans of Sáenz’s original novel will find that Pelayo and Gonzales embody the titular characters with such skill and grace that they appear to have been pulled straight from the page.

Pelayo’s performance as Ari is outstanding. The development of his character is a meticulous, slow burn that novel fans will recognize, one that Pelayo portrays with ease. Despite his limited experience in film and television, with only three roles credited on his IMDb, Pelayo’s role in the film is one that rivals the experience of many household names.

Likewise, Gonzales shines in his role as Dante. He embraces the character completely.

There is no doubt that Gonzales’s strength to tug on heartstrings with his acting is one of the leading reasons he landed the role of Dante. His characterization, especially in scenes taken straight from the book, is remarkable.

Notable performances in the film also include Eugenio Derbez (Jamie Mendoza) and Kevin Alejandro (Sam Quintana).

Ari and Dante are written as mirrors of their fathers, with family and masculinity being the central focus of the story. The roles they took on as Mr. Mendoza and Mr. Quintana, respectively, are perfectly sculpted from the characterization of the novel.

Alongside the film’s acting in the incredible cinematography.

From the camera work to the lighting to the beautiful direction of specific scenes, “Aristotle and Dante” is a cinematic masterpiece. Intense scenes are shot and delivered with passion and fire, and those scenes that are more mellow and soft are done with grace and ease.

Fans of the novel will delight in seeing some of their favorite scenes come to life, as almost nothing from the original plot was removed from the film. In fact, many major scenes were filmed with dialogue from the novel, or at least close to it.

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” will delight, surprise, break your heart and sew it back up within an hour and thirty-six minutes. It brings about an important message: Embrace who you are and be brave, because no matter what, you are loved.

Written by Bailey Storey, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment.

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